In Texas, the vast majority of divorces are resolved through mediation, with no trial needed. However, the process of preparing for divorce mediation is critical because it sets the stage for a productive and successful mediation. The better understanding you have regarding your marital estate, how divorce negotiations work and what you and your spouse hope to achieve through mediation, the more likely you will be satisfied with the end result.
In the following article, you’ll find a divorce mediation checklist along with several divorce mediation tips, so you’ll know how to prepare for divorce mediation. We’ll also answer these common questions about preparing for divorce mediation:
- Questions to ask a divorce mediator.
- What to ask for in divorce mediation.
- How to get what you want in divorce mediation.
10-Step Divorce Mediation Checklist
No. 1: Hire your own divorce attorney.
While you may think you don’t need a divorce attorney AND a divorce mediator, in most cases not hiring an attorney for a mediated divorce will result in you not achieving the best outcome for your case. That’s not to say that some people can’t navigate mediation solo without any issues, but those people who can generally have few if any assets, no major disagreements about their divorce settlement and no children or custody concerns.
For people who actually do have contested issues with real meat to them, like disputes about the value of their estate, tangible property, kid issues, etc., not hiring an attorney will likely cost a whole lot more in the long run. These are some of the most important issues people have to deal with in life, so it’s important to get it right.
Keep in mind, if you go into mediation without an attorney, you’re going into mediation with zero legal advice. Divorce mediators must remain 100% neutral and can’t give either party any form of legal advice. That means they can’t say “you should do this …” or “you would benefit from doing this …” and so on.
Along with providing legal advice, a good divorce attorney will help you prepare for mediation, pin down your and your spouse’s wants and non-negotiables and develop a strategy for approaching mediation, including different settlement options to consider. Family law attorneys also understand how family law works and mistakes to avoid during divorce mediation negotiations. You don’t.
No. 2: Choose your divorce mediator wisely.
Another good reason to hire a divorce attorney—especially one who specializes in handling divorce mediation in the county where you reside? They are familiar with the divorce mediators in your area, how they work and what type of cases (and clients) they are most suitable to handle.
Just like regular people, divorce mediators all have different personalities. There are no one-size-fits-all mediators out there. As an experienced divorce attorney Fort Worth who has mediated thousands of divorces in my career, I know it is essential to match clients with a mediator who will mesh well with the individual client’s personality and tend to be amenable to the type of settlement and custody goals the client seeks.
If you are one of the few parties out there with a truly uncontested divorce and choose not to hire an attorney, you and your spouse should reach out to a few divorce mediators who work in your area before selecting one.
A few questions to ask a divorce mediator include:
- Are you licensed to practice law in the state of Texas, and do you specialize in family law? (Don’t hire a divorce mediator who isn’t a licensed family law attorney.)
- How would you describe your mediation style?
- How long have you been a divorce mediator in my area?
- How can I expect the mediation process to work with you?
- Do you charge by the hour or use a flat fee?
- What are the rules of conduct my spouse and I will be expected to follow?
- What will you do if my spouse lies or is disrespectful to me?
- How soon can we start mediation and how long will it last?
No. 3: Prepare a detailed inventory of your marital assets and debts.
Whether you hope to resolve your divorce at trial or through mediation, you should create an inventory including any financial assets and debts that have a bearing on your marital estate (along with any supporting documentation, like current financial statements). Again, if you have few or no assets or debts, this step shouldn’t be very complicated.
On the other hand, if you own a home and/or other property, have investments, retirement accounts and/or credit card debt, own a business and/or other assets, you’ll have more homework to do. Your attorney (and you really should hire an attorney if this is the case) can help you organize your inventory list and supporting documents, as well as make any discovery requests for missing information you need from your spouse.
An accurate inventory of the marital estate truly is critical to divorce negotiations. A good attorney will help you understand what is at stake and simplify things as much as possible. This means maintaining accurate financial spreadsheets throughout the divorce and explaining how different scenarios (tax implications, controlling ownership of an asset, business income, retirement accounts, alimony and spousal support, etc.) will impact your divorce settlement.
No. 4: Sort out as much as possible prior to mediation.
Time is money when it comes to divorce because you will likely pay both your attorney and divorce mediator by the hour. If possible, take time to sit down with your spouse and hash out what you do and don’t agree about regarding your estate, child custody issues and spousal support if applicable. The fewer issues you need to resolve going into mediation, the less your divorce will generally cost.
No. 5: Put your kids first.
Divorce is one of the biggest emotional roller coasters people experience in life but children shouldn’t pay the price. That means don’t argue or say disparaging things about the other parent in front of your kids and never put children in the middle. Research consistently shows that children of divorce fare much better when parents act civil toward one another and take steps to make the transition from one to two separate households as calm and easy as possible. Seeking the guidance of a family therapist or clergy can make all the difference in the world for children when parents are going through divorce.
No. 6: Keep an open mind.
As you prepare for divorce mediation, it generally helps to keep an open mind regarding the potential outcome of your divorce. One of the biggest pieces of advice I give to clients is: Don’t expect to get 100% of everything you want. Divorce usually involves a lot of give and take, and the divorce mediation process will go much smoother if you focus on what’s really important to you. Don’t waste your time or energy on minor issues that won’t matter in the long run.
This may leave you wondering what to ask for in divorce mediation?
Since this is a divorce mediation checklist Texas style—and Texas is a community property estate—what to ask for in divorce mediation should align with the fair and equitable distribution of your marital estate. Your attorney can explain what that looks like based on the assets in your marital estate, whether any fault grounds are involved in the divorce, what each spouse’s current earning potential is and whether you have children, among other issues.
No. 7: Play nice.
While it may be difficult to get along with you soon-to-be-ex, you’ll both be better off if you treat each other with respect. When you put your best foot forward to be cordial, fair and flexible with the other party, he or she will be more likely to do the same. Even if your spouse is a narcissist or a plain old everyday jerk, stay calm, keep focusing on what is important to you (assets, marital home, custody, etc.) and don’t sweat the small stuff. The “play nice” approach can help expedite the divorce mediation process so you can finalize your divorce more quickly.
No. 8: Not the breadwinner? Consider postponing your divorce.
This divorce mediation checklist item doesn’t apply to everyone but if you’re approaching the 10-year mark of marriage, you may want to wait to finalize the divorce until you hit that milestone. After 10 years of marriage, you can claim Social Security based on your ex’s Social Security earnings at retirement, provided one-half of your ex’s Social Security benefit is greater than your full benefit. In addition, your ex won’t be required to pay spousal support in Texas until the 10-year mark, except in some cases where family violence has occurred. Ask your attorney if postponing your divorce may be beneficial in your case.
No 9: Start thinking about the future, not the past.
One of the worst things you can do when preparing for divorce mediation is to dwell on how great (or bad) things used to be in your marriage. We get it. Divorce is HARD but once you get through the highs and lows of divorce mediation and finalize your divorce, you will have a bright future ahead of you. You just need to be willing to look for it.
No. 10: Promptly follow through on directives in your divorce agreement.
Once your divorce has been finalized there may be steps you need to take to effectuate certain aspects of your Texas marital settlement agreement (MSA). This may include transferring the title of a piece of property to your ex, paying taxes you owe, selling your home and distributing profits from that sale in accordance with the MSA, and so on. Once you finalize these steps (your attorney can help make sure proper steps are followed and paperwork is filed), you can move on to the next chapter of your life.
How to get what you want in divorce mediation
While it’s true you usually can’t expect to get everything you want in divorce mediation, hiring an attorney experienced in the divorce mediation process is your best bet for maximizing the outcome of your divorce. This is especially true if you have a complex, contested divorce—and the divorce mediation attorneys at the Sisemore Law Firm are here to help.
If you live in the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex and have questions about divorce mediation or need help navigating your divorce mediation checklist, contact us today.