Mediation Process Steps

Divorce mediation can feel informal and sometimes even improvisational. Most mediators work hard to help their clients feel supported throughout the conversation, adjusting their tactics and procedures to fit the couple they're working with. 

In general, however, mediation involves five steps:

  1.  Preparation
  2.  Introduction
  3.  Framing 
  4.  Negotiation
  5.  Formalizing 

Couples who move through this process discuss their issues, come to an agreement, formalize their decisions, and emerge with a written document they can share with the court. 

How many stages are in the mediation process?

Every mediation is different, and mediators may shift their processes depending on clients' needs and relationships. But most conversations progress through a reliable series of steps. 

Some experts break the process into six steps, and others use five. The process is the same, but how they're described can differ.

Here's what you can expect if you sign up for the divorce mediation process. 

Stage 1: Preparation

Mediation works best when couples are prepared. Before the conversation begins, a mediator might ask a client to gather supporting documents like these:

  • Credit card statements 
  • Health insurance premium statements 
  • House appraisals 
  • Bank statements 

Mediators ask their clients to think about what they want to discuss during mediation. Clients can also determine how they'd like each problem to be resolved. 

The more homework you do before the mediation, the easier the conversation might be. 

Stage 2: Introduction and rule setting  

Mediators often use ground rules to facilitate a safe and respectful conversation. For example, they might ask their clients to do the following:

  • Listen without interrupting
  • Try to understand the other person's point, even if they disagree
  • Explain their thoughts, feelings, and needs 
  • Follow instructions carefully 
  • Ask follow-up questions if they don't understand something 

Mediators may also introduce themselves and explain how the conversation will progress. 

Read: Is Your Communication Style Harming Your Relationships?

Stage 3: Framing  

The mediator introduces a topic for discussion. Well-prepared mediators can discuss what each party considers an ideal way to resolve the impasse. Mediators can also allow each side to explain what seems both right and fair.

Framing discussions can quickly disintegrate into shouting matches, so mediators are quick to enforce ground rules. Couples can't interrupt one another or attack one another. 

Mediators might ask clarifying questions to help deepen each party's understanding. And mediators might ask one party to explain what the other side wants and why.

Stage 4: Negotiation 

Mediators can't develop binding answers to legal questions, but they can present potential solutions. At this stage, clients can discuss these ideas, and they can bring their own solutions to the table for negotiation. 

Some couples need breaks during negotiation, and some mediators split couples and work as intermediaries. They work with one side on a potential solution, bring it to the other for approval, and return to the first for more tweaks. 

Stage 5: Formalizing 

Successful conversations end with agreements. Mediators encourage their clients to document each item, preferably in court forms. At the end of the session, couples can file these documents and end their marriages. 

What types of problems does mediation solve?

Mediation could help with almost any problem couples face. If you've reached an impasse about anything, your mediator might help.

Typically, couples use mediation to help with the following issues:

  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Spousal support

That said, you could use mediation to negotiate anything, including the possession of a favorite pair of gardening shears or a treasured clock sitting on your mantle. If you can't agree on something and it's holding up your divorce, mediation might help.

Download: The Ultimate Guide to Divorce Mediation

Is mediation the best option for your situation?

Mediation can feel flexible and personal. Your mediator is there to guide the discussion, and you're very much in control of how the talk unfolds. 

If you're struggling to collaborate with your spouse at the end of your marriage, mediation might be a good option to help you move forward. 



The Mediation Process and Dispute Resolution. (December 2022). Harvard Law School. 
Ground Rules for a Successful Mediation Meeting. (December 2013). Texas Southern University.
Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.