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Seven Tips to Help Clients Prepare for Mediation

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Prepare for Mediation

So you have the big mediation date planned.  You hope the mediator will be able to work whatever magic she has so you can move the case to settlement and put the case to bed.  You’ve prepared yourself.  You know the law.  You have your arguments ready.  You’ve done your study of the facts.  But you forgot something crucial.  You forgot to prepare the most important person to your case—the person who actually has decision making power—your client!

Clients who prepare for mediation simply do better.  Client preparation significantly increases the chances of reaching a settlement.  Preparation is an often overlooked component of successful dispute resolution.  Importantly, clients are happier when they can settle outside of court.  So, here are seven tips to prepare your client for mediation.

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#1: Make sure the client understands the mediation process.

To prepare your client for mediation, it’s important for them to be clear on what is expected of them in mediation, and what the role of the mediator will be.  Mediation is not court. It is not counseling or therapy.  It’s a negotiation facilitated by a third-party neutral.

The mediator is there to facilitate and to help people bridge their gaps from a neutral perspective. The mediator doesn’t give legal advice and doesn’t get a tie-breaking vote if the clients disagree.

All decisions are up to the parties to mutually agree.  Mediation does not require people to get along. A good mediator will facilitate the conversation and bring balance — even in cases where one party may be a better negotiator than the other.

#2: Educate your client on the relevant law.

It really helps if your client is prepared and armed with information.  This reduces the amount of time the mediator has to spend educating the client.  If they know what their rights are before they come, then they are more able to consider proposals for settlement.

Also, assure them no one will be expected to sign binding agreements without the advice of counsel. This goes a long way toward calming any fears of being “tricked” into an agreement.

#3: Prepare your client to manage emotional responses.

People come to their conflicts with a myriad of emotions.  Most of us, whether we admit are not, make most of our decisions through the lens of our emotions.  This is fine unless the emotions become so intense that we lose our ability to think rationally.  In divorce cases in particular, emotions affect almost all of the clients decisions.  Sometimes parties themselves in the difficult state of fight or flight and are unable to think clearly.  If left unmanaged, a negative emotion can make reaching accord much harder.

Consider mental health professionals to coach the client.

If you are like most attorneys, you have not been trained in psychology.  It’s good practice to know where your limitations are.  Why not involve a mental health professional to act as a divorce coach to prepare clients to prepare themselves emotionally for what might be a challenging meeting.

Help the client come up with strategies to stay calm to help with rational decision making.

Coach your clients on the importance of managing one’s own emotional responses.  It’s good to normalize coping tools such as taking a break or breathing.  If you are going to be there with your client during the mediation, come up with a signal, such as a keyword or a hand gesture, to indicate when a person is loosing it.  That way, when the signal is given, you can take your client outside to calm down.

A good mental health professional can even help the client come up with mindfulness tools to keep them grounded.  You want your client to bring his or her best self so that she or he can negotiate rationally.

#4: Make sure your client realistically understands their best alternative to alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA).

It’s common for a client to have unrealistic expectations about how good their case is.  They may believe that their case is a slam dunk and that all they need to do is get in front of a judge so that can explain their case.  Naturally, the judge will see it their way.

But we all know that such is not always the case.  In Roger Fisher and William Ury’s seminal work, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Without Giving In, Fisher and Ury coined the phrase of the “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement”  (BATNA for short). This is basically your client’s best case scenario if they end up in front of a judge.   A strong BATNA can empower decision making.

A client with an overoptimistic BATNA will make choices that put them at risk.  If they have a more realistic BATNA, it’s an important tool in negotiating a mediated agreement.  If a proposal is superior to your BATNA, then should take it.  Having a proposal that is worse than your BATNA will result in a person being less like to accept a proposal.

Be careful, however, that you as the professional also have a realistic BATNA.  I can’t tell you how often I have seen attorneys poorly advise their client because of an unrealistic BATNA.  They then go to court and sometimes get an unpleasant surprise.  So make sure you are thinking things all the way through yourself!

#5: Make sure your client realistically understands their worst alternative to a negotiated agreement (WATNA).

Fisher and Ury also teach us the phrase “Worst Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement” (WATNA for short).  Basically, the WATNA is the worst case scenario if your client ends up in court.  Sometimes a proposal is worth taking simply because it could be so much worse.  It’s a strategy of minimizing risk.

If your client is unrealistic about the worst case scenario and therefore has an uninformed WATNA, that can be very dangerous.  Your client may walk away from a deal that minimizes risk because he or she doesn’t understand how bad it can be.  Just like with the BATNA, make sure you are being realistic too.

I’ve seen a lot of attorneys advise their client not to accept a reasonable proposal only to go to court and do worse.  Client’s don’t love it when that happens- especially if they acted on your advice.  So, make sure you’ve got the BATNA right and be ready to move your BATNA or your WATNA once you get into the negotiation and learn new information.

#6: Get the client away from a fixation on things being “fair.”

Fair is the “F” word. Instead, focus on making a “good business decision.”

In negotiations, “fair” is largely meaningless.  What one person may define as fair may be worlds apart from what the other party defines as fair.  I find it best not to got there.  Fair is the “F” word in my conference room.

Rather, I coach my clients to leave “fair” behind and stretch for a good business decision.  If everybody is giving something up and a little disappointed, that means we are compromising… and that is GOOD.

Help your clients look for an agreement they can live with rather than an agreement that will conform to a mythical understanding of fairness.  Sometimes, the deal won’t ever be perfect.  But if you want your client to stay out of court, it may just have to be good enough.

See also: Why “Fair” is the F-Word in Divorce Negotiations

#7: Teach your client how to make realistic proposals.

He or she isn’t negotiating to get a bargain on a used car. It is a waste of time to offer terms pushing the extremes with the sole intention of pushing the other party to come closer a desired result. It is the road to frustration, mediation breakdowns, and a date in court in front of a judge.

See also: Tips on Making and Receiving Proposals

Download our free tip sheet to
make sure you have prepared
your clients for success in mediation.

Ways to Avoid Mediation Mistakes Too Many Lawyers Make

Early intervention: Why mediation early in a family law case can save a fortune in fees and stress.

Neutral Private Settlement Conference

Does Divorce Mediation Work for Complicated Financial Issues?

Complicated financial issues can make a divorce complicated. Mediation can help you sort out your issues.

Complicated financial issues can make a divorce seem complicated. Mediation can help you sort out your issues.

One common myth about divorce mediation deserves a debunking:  You can’t mediate when there are complicated financial issues. This advice is completely wrong. The opposite is true. The more complex your divorce finances, mediation offers the best way to sort them out without resorting to expensive litigation.

Comparing costly, stressful divorce litigation in court, and the same divorce process using mediation, these are the reasons why mediation can be a better choice for complicated fiancial situations.

Financial disclosure same for mediation as in court

Financial declarations in divorce cases are the same no matter whether you go to court, or pursue alternative dispute resolution.

Financial declarations in divorce cases are the same no matter whether you go to court, or pursue alternative dispute resolution.

Courts require the identical forms used in mediation. Parties complete an Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150) and a Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142). The law requires disclosure of all material facts and circumstances related to money – whether asked for or not.

Additionally, parties can have financial disclosures reviewed by counsel before agreeing to anything. Whether your divorce is simple or you have profoundly complicated financial issues, your divorce process will require full disclosure. There is no difference between mediation and litigation in the level of detail.

Because mediation relies on informal discovery rather than formal and expensive discovery, people actually tend to get more information in mediation than in litigation.

Lawyers know the name of the game when served with discovery in a litigated case is to provide as little information as legally possible.  It’s even more the case when there are complicated financial issues.  But in a mediation, the information tends to be more forthcomingbecause people are not being forced into tedious formal discovery processes.  This may seem counterintuitive, but actually it’s human nature.  When people are forced to do things they tend not to cooperate.  When things are more voluntary, people are less threatened and more likely to do what they are supposed to do.

Use a neutral financial specialist in mediation

The financial specialist can help gather information when there are complicated financial issues. Sometimes the parties may not know which questions to ask relating to the divorce finances.  The financial specialist can help know what questions need to be asked and can also alert parties to red flags.  This is especially helpful when the parties are at different levels of knowledge relating to the finances.  The financial specialist helps bring people to a level playing field.  Reports that the financial specialists produce can be very helpful in uncovering options and finding pathways to settlement.

Mediation lets you be creative with solutions for your divorce finances

Judges must follow the law. The law isn’t flexible. Judges have limited options to offer you. But when people mediate, they are free to create a settlement best for the family.

I have seen many “outside-the-box” settlements in mediation. Most are far better for the family than what a court could ever provide.

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There is no risk in mediation. Parties are not required or pressured to enter into any agreements without the option to talk with a lawyer before signing. You can have an agreement reviewed by your own financial professional at any point.  This ensures parties are not left to their own devices when considering challenging money questions.

Avoid shark attorneys who discourage mediation

Shark type attorneys will discourage you from mediating. They might tell you court is your only option. Be skeptical. If you have significant assets, they want your case. This serves their interests, not yours. They know they can make a ton more money if they can fight over your financial issues.

Don’t get sucked into a litigated case when you don’t need to. You might believe your case is so difficult, only a judge can sort things out. In today’s family courts, judges do not have the time to spend on complicated details. Those details important to you can be lost. A skilled mediator can handle any issue you present. Mediators take all the time you need to be sure you address and resolve each detail to your satisfaction.

Make sure your mediator possesses the training and experience necessary. When things get complicated, he or she should be willing to bring in additional experts. Ask whether he or she has worked with couples in circumstances similar to yours. Your mediator should be able to offer examples. Don’t work with someone getting on the job training during your case.

Read more about money and mediation:

Mediating Your Divorce When The Other Party Is a Bully

We Don’t Get Along Very Well. How Can We Possibly Mediate Our Divorce?

Will I Be Able to Keep the House?

My Second Appearance on “Real Divorce Talk”

real divorce talk divorce information

I was happy to appear again on the Facebook Live program Real Divorce Talk. This time, I co-hosted with my good friend Bryan Devore. The potential for this program as a divorce information resource really excites me.

About Bryan Devore

Bryan Devore co-founded Divorce Home Solutions.  There, he helps people gather needed facts to make tough choices (including whether to sell their home or to stay).  They provide helpful services along with access to trusted divorce pros guiding folks through the divorce transition.

Bryan and his partner, Jami Shapiro, also sponsor a  Separated and Newly Divorced Meetup support group.  They meet every two weeks on Tuesdays in Carlsbad from 6pm – 8pm.  Because each session is led by a therapist specializing in divorce, it’s a time for folks to learn and share.  Sharing experiences helps people realize they aren’t alone.

Watch Episode 2 of Real Divorce Talk for Relevant Divorce Information

This week’s Real Divorce Talk show featured Certified Divorce Financial Analyst Carlie Headapohl, divorce mortgage expert Eric Billock, nationally recognized author of The Good Divorce Dr. Constance Ahrons, and “Lemonade Divorce” attorney and mediator Allison Patton.

Today’s Topics: co-parenting, divorce emotions, divorce finances, mortgage lending during a divorce, divorce mediation, the Good Divorce, and Lemonade Divorce.

If you like what you see, then be sure to “Like” the show and follow.

For more divorce information, check out:

Forgiveness During Divorce: A key to finding peace

Watch my appearance on Real Divorce Talk on Facebook Live

We Don’t Get Along Very Well. How Can We Possibly Mediate Our Divorce?

What Does Alternative Dispute Resolution Mean?

options, difference, mediation, questions, answers

The term “alternative dispute resolution” (or “ADR”) is often used to describe conflict resolution without going to court.

If you find yourself facing a family law matter, you might first ask, “How do I avoid going to court?”   Parties can use ADR for any family law issue, whether it’s a divorce, child custody dispute, or support issues.  But, there is a lot of confusion about what ADR practice actually entails.  Professionals and parties alike often use words like “mediation,” “arbitration,” and “private judging” interchangeably.  However, these terms could not be more different.

The main theme of all of these alternative dispute resolution options is that the mediator, arbitrator, or private judge acts as a neutral.  They are not there to advocate for or legally advise either party.  Rather, they are there to get the parties to a resolution, or settlement.  However, the powers and abilities that they have depends entirely on which process you choose.

MEDIATION

Mediation is typically what most people think of when they think of staying out of court and reaching an agreement.  A mediator’s job is to help the parties communicate with each other so they reach an agreement themselves.  A mediator does not make any orders or decisions for the parties.  Rather, a mediator facilitates an effective dialogue between the parties.  Sometimes, a mediator might provide legal information about what the law says, but will never provide legal advice to either party.  Mediation allows parties to never go to court, because it is a private process outside of court.  Mediation is usually the most informal process of these three options.

ARBITRATION

Arbitration is similar to a trial at court.  However, the arbitrator is the one who makes the decision rather than a public judge.  Each side will present their case to the arbitrator.  They might use the same procedural tools as a court process might require, such as discovery and evidence.  An arbitrator then makes a decision based on each side’s case.  Arbitration takes place outside of court, and is usually more relaxed and informal than the courtroom.

Parties might choose arbitration because they want a private, third-party neutral to make a decision for them, but don’t want to set foot inside a courtroom.  There are two kinds of arbitration – either binding or non-binding.  Binding arbitration means that the arbitrator’s decision is final, and the parties must accept that decision.  However, non-binding arbitration means that if the parties disagree with the arbitrator’s decision, they can go back into court to have a judge decide.

PRIVATE JUDGING

Private judging is very similar to arbitration, except a private judge has the ability to make binding court orders the same way a public judge does.  With private judging, parties generally go through the same process as litigation.  This might include procedures like filing a motion at court, but a private judge would determine the case instead.

A private judge is usually much more accessible than a public judge.  This is because private judges are typically experienced family law attorneys, or retired former judges.  Their schedules tend to be more flexible than the impacted calendars of current sitting judges.  Private judges are also able to devote more focus to one case at a time.  With court, a matter may take several months before a court even has time to hear it.  Parties might choose private judging if they want to have the structure and formalities of litigation, but don’t want to go through the courtroom or deal with the wait times of the court’s calendar.

There are many different options for conflict resolution.  It’s important to know which one suits your personal situation best, as each process has its own pros and cons.  It’s a good idea to discuss your options with a knowledgeable family law attorney who is skilled with ADR practice.  He or she can help you navigate the intricacies of a family law matter, no matter which process you choose.

Divorce Mediation: Why patience with your spouse is so important

 

cartoon diagram about patience and the difference between the plan and the reality of achieving success

In my divorce mediation career, I’ve learned over the years that people approach divorce from different places.  Sometimes people want the divorce very badly and are happy to get started.  Others are devastated by the breakup.

 

It’s not uncommon for a couple in the process of their separation to move at different speeds.  One party may be ready to move quickly while the other spouse may be having a terrible time and may need to move more slowly.  In my experience, the divorce mediation will only move as quickly as the slowest person.  That can be very frustrating to the spouse who wants it over with.  My best advice is to take your time and give the other person the time and space he or she needs.

Divorce can feel like a death.

In her seminal work, on Death and Dying, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross describes the “Five Stages of Grief”.  They are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.  Divorce professionals have learned to spot these very same stages and patterns when people face the loss of their marriage during a divorce.  (See The Emotional Stages of Divorce: What to Expect During and After the Divorce ProcessThe Emotional Stages of Divorce: What to Expect During and After the Divorce Process)  We’ve learned that people are unable to effectively deal with the present issues of the divorce without reaching the point of acceptance that the divorce is happening.  But to get to acceptance, people first need to travel through the other four grief stages.  That can take some time.  If you’ve sat with your decision to divorce for awhile before breaking it to your spouse, it is likely that you went through the five stages of grief on your own before reaching your own point of acceptance.  Your spouse, who may be just learning of your intention to divorce is late to the grief cycle.  You’ll need to afford him or her some patience and time to work through it.

If you’ve been sitting with your decision to divorce for awhile before breaking it to your spouse, it is likely that you went through the five stages of grief on your own before reaching your own point of acceptance.  Your spouse, who may be just learning of your intention to divorce is late to the grief cycle.  You’ll need to afford him or her some patience and time to work through it.

Forcing a person to complete a divorce case before completing the grief process can be problematic.

First, a rushed agreement is rarely followed.

The person who is rushed will resent the process and will likely make efforts to undermine or to revise the agreement.  Worse, a party who agreed under duress would have grounds to set aside the settlement altogether.  It is better to take the time to get the settlement right so that there is buy-in from both parties.

Second, pushing the slower party often has the opposite of the intended effect.

If you own a dog, you may very well know the behavior that happens when you try to pull on a dog’s leash.  The dog will tug in the opposite direction or may even stubbornly stop moving or sit down.  In divorce mediation, trying to rush a party often has the same effect.  The slower spouse who is rushed may even slow down more.

Third, not allowing the slower spouse room to accept and deal emotionally with the divorce mediation process can lead the pushed spouse to choose more aggressive and expense processes such as divorce litigation.

Trust me, the wheels of justice at court will turn even slower.  So it’s best to work with your spouse to try to reach consensus.  But if that consensus doesn’t come overnight, it’s not the end of the world.  Letting your spouse have the time in a safe space to deliberate, review financials and consult with a lawyer is best even for the faster spouse because pushing a person too hard can lead to a much slower court process.

In Divorce Mediation, Slower is Faster.

So be patient and compassionate towards your soon-to-be ex.  Let him or her have time to deal with the emotional pain of the breakup.  Don’t push so hard that he or she slows down or worse, chooses to litigate.  Sometimes slower is, in fact, faster.

See also these related posts:

Can I Be Divorced Yesterday? Or is Slower Faster? by Shawn Skillin, Esq.

We don’t get along very well. How can we possibly mediate our divorce?

Five Tips to Have a Miserable Divorce

Human Side of Divorcing

Early intervention: Why mediation early in a family law case can save a fortune in fees and stress.

high conflict divorce litigation, family court scene, divorcing couple at a settlement conference

As a certified family law specialist (CLS-F)[i], I have been involved in divorce mediation and alternate dispute resolution (ADR) for more than 15 years.  I regularly serve as a pro tem settlement judge on the Mandatory Settlement Conference (MSC) Panel with the San Diego County Superior Court.  While I enjoy helping folks through their MSCs, the help is simply too little too late for many people.  Often preparation for the MSC is nearly as stressful and costly as preparing for the trial.  In addition, lawyers need to certify that discovery is complete and prepare elaborate briefs.  Waiting until the very end of a case to attempt mediation does the parties and the professionals a great disservice.  I see this in the pained and stressed-out expressions on parties and counsel at the MSCs I facilitate.

There are many options at the beginning of the case to settle issues, manage discovery concerns and resolve unnecessary conflict.  Even (and especially) high conflict cases can benefit from earlier intervention with a mediator to short circuit the conflict.  Attorneys benefit from early mediation because it helps them settle the cases that can settle.  That frees them up to focus on trials for cases that won’t settle.

Here are some ideas for how you can engage the ADR services of a mediator early in your family law case:

Meet and Confer on Steroids.

Every family law attorney is aware of the requirement for the “meet and confer” conference. Too often it’s simply given lip service by a short phone call to opposing counsel without discussing the issues.  Because lawyers sometimes give less attention to what needs to happen to settle, the case stalls.  Why not have a facilitated meet and confer settlement conference to identify the issues and formulate a plan for a swift conclusion?

Discovery Management.

Often the most expensive part of a case is the discovery, which involves elaborate and arcane procedures to gather as much evidence as possible. Sometimes this is whether the case needs the information or not.  The adversarial process spurs less and not more cooperation in discovery.  This can lead to months or even years of discovery wars.  Why not use a mediator to help “referee” the discovery? Most discovery can be provided informally with much less cost.  A mediator can help facilitate the discovery process to specifically target discovery needs and conclude the case with much less rancor and headache for the lawyers and cost to the parties.

Managing the High Conflict Case.

There is a common misconception that people cannot mediate high conflict cases.  That’s simply not true.  Most high conflict behavior in divorce cases is based on fear and hurt.  So, engaging a good mediator early in the process reduces conflict by managing the fight-or-flight response.  Court tends to exacerbate and actually encourage high conflict pathologies.  Rather than encouraging discord with a fight at court, consider short-circuiting conflict with a mediator experienced in high conflict.  Consequently, if parties learn early how to interact productively, it makes the rest of the case go more smoothly.

Use Early Mediation to Resolve Interim Issues.

The terribly backlogged Family Courts sometimes take months to hear even the most routine (and sometimes pressing) interim motions.   I can usually help as a mediator to resolve interim questions like support and custody in a fraction of the time and cost compared to filing a Request for Order.  Because a mediated settlement conference efficiently resolves interim issues, the parties can relax a little more and focus on concluding the case rather than reacting to interim problems.

Consider a Court-Ordered Family Resolution Plan and Use of ADR  Pursuant to Family Code Section 2451.

One little-known provision of the Family Code involves the use of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) as part of a court-ordered family centered case resolution plan as described in Family Code section 2451California Rule of Court 5.83 describes how the plan can be implemented.  Parties can appoint a case manager as part of the plan and can also apply Code of Civil Procedure section 639 to appoint the case manager as a discovery referee.  Further, Family Code section 2451(a)(3) gives protection to attorneys who follow any discovery plans adopted as part of a court-ordered family resolution plan as follows:

“Limitations on discovery, including temporary suspension pending exploration of settlement. There is a rebuttable presumption that an attorney who carries out discovery as provided in a family centered case resolution plan has fulfilled his or her duty of care to the client as to the existence of community property.”

I have used this procedure to great effect.  It can do a lot to reduce costs and keep the case moving quickly towards settlement.

 

Let Us Move Your Case Past Stuck.

ADR mediation conflict resolution skillsBecause there are many ADR options beyond an end-of-case settlement conference where a mediator can make a huge difference, the key is to start early.  At Weber Dispute Resolution, we have the training, skills, and experience to get your family law case past stuck.  That’s because our approach serves to support existing relationships with legal counsel and will not waste family wealth by exacerbating family conflict.  Experience first-hand the difference a dolphin lawyer can make.

 

Want to get your case past stuck?
Consider a mediated
Settlement Conference with
Weber Dispute Resolution.
Call us at 858-410-0144
to start settling your case.

 

[i] Certified Specialist – Family Law, The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.