Mediation is an out-of-court process in which parties themselves negotiate a divorce settlement with the assistance of a neutral mediator. It has some stark contrasts to collaborative divorce but is similar in that it can lower the overall cost of divorce while providing the parties with greater flexibility in coming to unique settlements.
Premediation contact refers to contact made by a party or their attorney with the mediator before the first session. As a general rule, any contact with only a single party present before the initial session is discouraged. This is to maintain the neutrality of the mediator. A mediator’s neutrality could be in question if one party already had a meeting with the mediator where they were able to express their position.
I. Exploring Mediation
The first step in Sacramento divorce mediation is for the parties to meet and decide whether mediation is the best course of action for all involved. The mediator also reviews the features of mediation, such as:
- Mediation is voluntary and may be ended by any party at any time
- Parties themselves must make decisions
- Parties must be able to decide what is fair.
- Parties should have a basic understanding of the law as it applies to their case.
- Parties must be able to work together
- There will be conflict, and parties are expected to work through that.
- The mediator is not a judge, but rather a neutral participant in the process.
If parties do not have a consulting attorney at this point, the feasibility of hiring one should be discussed. It is strongly recommended to hire a consulting attorney who will guide you through mediation.
II. Setting Ground Rules
If the parties decide to proceed with mediation after the initial meeting, the second step is to lay down some ground rules for the mediation proceeding. The law doesn’t provide a strict set of rules that must be followed. Rather, the parties themselves decide what rules to set. Examples of common ground rules are:
- Parties, and not their attorneys, will be the ones to make the decisions.
- All necessary information and documentation will be disclosed and provided.
- The mediator only assists the parties; he or she will not decide on their behalf.
- Who will pay the mediator’s fees.
After the parties have set ground rules, the next step is to gather all the necessary information for the mediation sessions. The following information is often necessary for mediation:
- A list of assets and liabilities
- Income (past, present, and projected), and budgets
- Documentation regarding their assets, liabilities, incomes, and budgets.
- Schedule for time with the children that works best for all.
At this point, the parties are encouraged to work separately in gathering information, especially regarding their new budget. The purpose of this is to help the parties adjust to handling their finances independently.
Property valuation is also done in this step. Unlike in court proceedings where it is the judge who determines the valuation of parties, in mediation the valuation of property can be done by experts or by the parties themselves with assistance from the mediator and their attorneys.
Identifying and Understanding Issues
After all the necessary information is gathered, the next step is to identify the issues involved. Parties may find this step difficult or challenging if they don’t have a clear grasp of the law involved, and it might feel tempting to disregard the law.
It is important to have an adequate understanding of the law and its relevance to the issues involved. The mediator usually explains the applicable law to the parties, and parties may also consult their respective attorneys to get a better understanding of the law.
Working Through Conflict
In mediation, the parties themselves are expected to work through their conflict and come to an agreement. After the issues are identified, the parties will have to work through their conflicting interests to come to an agreement.
Reaching an Agreement and Conclusion
Once the parties have settled their issues and come to agreements concerning property division, support, custody, parenting plan, and any other issues, the mediator will draft a marital settlement agreement.