In California, mediation of custody disputes was introduced in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1980’s and has since become mandatory. Today, Mediation is used for Divorce in the division of assets and debts, agreement on child and spousal support, and in pre-nuptial agreements.
Many San Francisco Bay Area clients are surprised to learn the process of mediation because there are very few trusted resources explaining the steps. The real issue is that Mediation can be modified to fit each and every individuals unique situation – so formalizing a process is a little against the grain. However, Gordon Family Law wants to de-mystify the process and hopefully allow for individuals to have the information they need to make informed choices.
Step One: Choosing A Mediator
Mediation requests usually come from one spouse, who is tasked with the responsibility of choosing a divorce mediator. The spouse may meet with one to three mediators before selecting a Divorce Mediator.
The criteria used to choose a Divorce Mediator may be a little different than other areas of law. A mediator's power is in the art of persuasion and understanding human emotions and motives. Mediators are skilled at identifying sticky issues and finding solutions to problems.
In fact, Mediation is about navigating interpersonal dynamics so that each spouse feels heard in the process of dividing assets, debts, and care of their children. For this reason, it’s important to feel like you can speak to your Mediator and that your Mediator is able to understand and reflect back to you about your interests and needs in the Divorce. A good Mediator should feel like talking to a trusted Aunt or Uncle. This means that a Mediator may not tell you exactly what you want to hear, but they will give you the supportive feeling that they care about your case and your family.
Mediators that fit your family may come in all shapes and sizes. There are great Divorce Mediators in San Francisco who have attended all sorts of law schools and Mediators that started mediation early and late in their legal careers. Remember, you are the most important person in this divorce process, so make sure you go with a Divorce Mediator that fits your values and philosophy.
I tell my clients to think about their divorce goals before they commit to my services. A true test is that your goals and the Mediators goals are clear and in alignment. Make sure you think about what you want out of your Mediator before you pick one.
Step Two: The First Meeting
At the first meeting with your San Francisco Bay Area Divorce Mediator, the Mediator will establish ground rules such as confidentiality and scheduling.
Mediators will also get right to the sticky issues- making sure to note which divorce issues are top priorities. In my first meeting with families, I take care to explain how the law works in California and what the law would require if the Divorce goes to trial. This is to make sure that all parties have an understanding of the legal system before they discuss a deal.
Step 3: Additional Meetings
Depending on whether your family has children, the subsequent meetings with your Divorce Mediator will be spent either on (1) parental planning or (2) financial mapping and planning. In the case of complex custody or asset divisions, we may hire outside experts such as accountants and real estate agents, to make sure all parties have an equal understanding of the values of their assets.
Divorce Mediation seeks to bridge the gap between the financially sophisticated spouse and the spouse who may have less knowledge of financial matters. A good Divorce Mediator will spend time educating the spouses on their options and taking careful steps to make sure the process does not move forward until all parties actually understand the financial and tax consequences of their decisions.
Step 4: Drafted Settlement Agreement
At the conclusion of Divorce Mediation, clients should expect a drafted settlement agreement that details the party’s decisions on assets, debts, child custody and support, and spousal support.
Step 5: Outside Consultation
During mediation, we encourage spouses to have private consultations with their own attorneys. These consultations serve as an excellent check on the Divorce Mediator.
If your divorce mediator does not recommend outside counsel – they may be afraid of another set of eyes on the decisions in mediation. You should feel encouraged and supported to get second opinions. You wouldn’t have a novel medical procedure without a second opinion, so why should your nuanced divorce settlement be any different.
Step 6: Signing the Forms
Once each party has had time to independently review the Marital Settlement Agreement, a Divorce Mediator will then help you file all required forms for a California Divorce.
Step 7: Follow Up
Most Marital Settlement Agreements identify and describe steps that need to happen after Divorce – whether that’s splitting tax liability in April of the next year, an inter spousal transfer, a new grant deed on property, or changes to your will and estate. Gordon Family Law is happy to follow up with their clients – knowing that the Divorce Mediation process will change your family forever.
If you are interested in learning more about Divorce Mediation, please contact Gordon Family Law today.