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How do you effectively prepare for and succeed in mediation in North Carolina divorce cases? There are five simple strategies that can help you successfully tackle divorce mediation.
What is Mediation in a North Carolina Divorce
First, let's briefly consider what mediation is in a North Carolina Divorce. North Carolina Divorce Law requires parties to participate in Mediated Settlement Conferences prior to going to trial in cases involving Equitable Distribution and Child Custody.
In this process, both parties and their attorneys meet with a mediator to discuss property and asset division, debt allocation, child support, alimony, and other related issues. These mediations are a chance to avoid going to court, though the mediator has no ability to make decisions for the parties. Instead, they oversee the conversations and help to come to agreements between them. If they fail to agree on a settlement during mediation, the case may then be settled in court.
Divorce mediation might take just a few hours, but some may take several sessions depending on the issues at hand.
As a Raleigh Divorce Lawyer since 1998, I have participated in more mediations than I can count, and I have learned what works and what doesn't.
Types of North Carolina Divorce Mediation
There are two types of mandatory divorce-related mediation in North Carolina. Let us look at each:
Child Custody Mediation
North Carolina child custody claims must be mediated by the parties before you actually have a permanent trial on custody. In Wake County, the mediation process involves two steps:
- Orientation where the parties watch a video and learn about custody disputes, and
- Later a mediation succession where each party meets with a county mediator who tries to assist the parties in coming up with an agreement
Your Divorce Lawyer cannot attend mandatory custody mediation with you, so you must be prepared to negotiate this claim on your own. If you reach an agreement, the parties are given the opportunity to have their attorney review that agreement with them prior to signing.
Equitable Distribution Mediation
Parties are required to attend a mediated settlement conference (or other approved alternative dispute resolution process) prior to going to trial for property division in North Carolina.
Each client and their divorce attorney typically attends the mediation with the third party mediator. Mediators must be approved and credited by the NC State Bar, and in most cases are divorce lawyers from other family law firms hired by the parties.
The parties can agree on which mediator to use, or one will be appointed for them by the Judge. The parties are required to pay the mediator, with the fee divided equally, so each party has an incentive not to waste time. In cases involving multiple issues, the parties will typically mediate all of their pending claims as well which can include alimony, child custody, child support, and attorney fees.
Tips for Successful Mediation
Know Your Goals Before You Get There
It sounds simple but many people simply show up without knowing exactly what they want or having thought about how they would react to likely offers from their spouse. Define your "win" beforehand.
Make a list of your assets and debts before going into your mediation as well. Most of these meetings are about dividing assets and debts, and reviewing your goals with your lawyer is a great way to prepare.
Consider what you are likely to hear from the other side, and plan how you are going to react to it.
Build in Bargaining Room
At the end of the day, mediation is simply a negotiation. The way our brains have been trained to compromise with someone is by seeing them compromise. If one party is not compromising, then we tend not to compromise either. We see it as a sign that someone is being unreasonable.
But what if the party not compromising came in with a reasonable offer that was more than fair? Studies show it really does not matter. For this reason, you better start off asking for more than you are willing to accept. This is where there is an art to negotiation.
I like to assist my clients in preparing a dream settlement, meaning it's more than they would ever expect to get, but it's what they really want. Then we prioritize the issues for our side and rank what we believe the other side's priorities are. Low priorities are conceded first, and sometimes I hold onto concessions for the opposing party that my client really does not mind giving up until later in the mediation.
This will give the impression that the issue was important to our side and we are making a major concession and is likely to lead to a concession on their part. Yes, the process is a bit cynical, but so is the human mind, and if managed correctly you can negotiate a good settlement without being dishonest.
Have a Thorough Custodial Schedule Planned Out
If you will be discussing custody in a mediation session, consider your plan thoroughly. The goal should be to achieve a plan that’s best for your children, so that they feel that they still have a secure family life and can count on exactly when they will see both parents.
Make sure you consider each holiday and school break carefully, on top of your work schedules and your children's school schedules. Consider all of the issues and problems you foresee and be prepared to deal with them in any agreement. It’s a good idea to print out any written discussions about custody that have happened and bring them in.
Remember that if you do not bring the problem up at mediation, it will not be covered in the agreement.
Are you passive or aggressive? Are you calm and reasonable or do you get worked up and angry? Some divorce lawyers make offers that will knowingly anger the other party to lower their expectations early on. Work very hard to prepare yourself to hear offers and statements that are not true or that are patently ridiculous and do your best not to be affected by them. Stick with the plan.
Prepare Yourself for Pressure
Mediators want to settle cases. That is how they measure their success. Be prepared to be pressured by the mediator to settle or make concessions. There is nothing wrong with making concessions, and both parties have to make hard choices in order to settle.
Just be prepared for it and if the issue you are being pressed on is very important to you, do not concede the point just to make other people happy. If you are a people pleaser who hates conflict, consider making certain statements early on that make it clear that certain issues are off the table. It is also a good idea to take a break for five minutes before conceding major points.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the fee for a divorce mediator?
The average fee for a divorce mediator varies, and may be charged hourly or as a flat rate.
A mediator might charge an hourly rate $150 and $350 an hour. If the mediator hired is a divorce lawyer performing mediation services, they may charge a higher rate—typically between $250 and $500 an hour.
A mediator’s flat rate usually falls in the range of $3,000 and $8,000.
What is a successful outcome for a mediation?
A successful mediation is achieved when the outcome can be agreed on and honored by both parties. That means some kind of compromise is reached and both parties believe that the agreement is equally fair—or, at least, equally unfair.
Are there downsides to divorce mediation?
Mediation has plenty of upsides, but there are some drawbacks to the process.
Mediation is often more expensive than filing an uncontested and no-fault divorce. If you are looking into divorce mediation because there are issues that aren’t able to be worked out without the help of a third party, it is probably worth the additional cost of a mediation to ensure you reach a fair agreement.
Mediation may also be unproductive if one partner is abusive, manipulative, and narcissistic. Even with the help of a professional mediator, these individuals may make their ex-spouses feel unsafe, or refuse to compromise.
What causes mediation to fail?
A mediation is considered failed if the two parties do not come to an agreement they consider fair, even with the help of the mediator. In that case, the party will likely have their case taken to trial.
Learn What Mediation Rights You Have by Contacting a Family Lawyer
Mediation, otherwise known as collaborative divorce, is process designed to help people settle disputes between themselves without having a Judge impose a settlement upon them. Settlement saves money, heartache, and in most cases involving children it results in a better agreement for parents. If you are facing a divorce or child custody dispute, contact a local divorce lawyer and learn more about your rights and how to prepare and succeed in divorce mediation.