Successful Divorce Mediation Tips and Tricks

Mediation works when done right. It can be a helpful way to reduce animosity, finalize a divorce quickly, keep your personal life private, save money, and resolve conflict.

However, mediation is not right for everyone. It only works when there is no power imbalance, both parties agree to financial transparency, each spouse seriously desires a settlement, and neither party has denied access to the children. 

The benefits of mediation include greater post-divorce stability and shielding your kids from conflict. So, what can you do to increase your chances of successfully mediating a family law dispute?

Keep these tips in mind as you embark on the mediation process.

10 tips for successful divorce mediation

Tip 1: Commit to being a good listener

When spouses in mediation utilize good listening skills (and refrain from interrupting and attacking one another), settlement discussions stay on track. Bonus points go to you for empathizing with your spouse, as you may find they're more cooperative when they feel like they've been heard.

How to know your default listening style

Many people tend to have a “default” listening style that may or may not serve them well in a divorce mediation environment. For example, some people are “task-oriented” listeners who focus primarily on what actions they can take based on what they hear. Others are “critical” listeners who look for faults in reasoning and, in an attempt to be helpful, try to correct them. Both of these listening styles have their place, but they are not appropriate everywhere.

Know that your default response to what your ex says – the one you’d give without thinking too much about it first – could help or harm the situation, and act accordingly. This requires self-reflection, self-awareness, and an earnest attempt to understand how the other person is thinking and feeling and what they want.

Assess and acknowledge what the other person wants

Strive to understand the other person’s feelings and desires, even if you don’t love what they’re saying. Then, acknowledge what they are saying. 

For example, if your ex is asking for more spousal support than you want to pay, resist the urge to respond with an angry, “I’m already paying you more than you need!” Instead, say something like, “I hear you saying that you don’t feel you have enough money to pay your rent and take care of the kids.” Ask why they’re making this request, demonstrating with your words and body language that you truly want to know their “why.” 

In turn, your ex will be more likely to listen intently to your point of view. And, it will be easier for the mediator to do their job if both of you are calm and communicative.

Set ground rules for yourself

When you walk into a mediation session, you may feel apprehensive about what will go down during the conversation. By setting ground rules for yourself, you can keep the focus positive at all times, leading to a stronger chance of success and a quicker resolution.

Consider setting these ground rules:

  • Avoid casting blame, making accusations, and bringing up old sticking points.
  • Speak only about your own needs and desires. Calmly assert and repeat them as needed.
  • Understand that you won’t get everything you want in mediation, and neither will your ex.
  • Invite your ex to share their ideas for collaboration.
  • Listen intently, and repeat what your ex says so they know they were heard.
  • Stay calm. If you feel yourself losing control, agree to pause the conversation for a later time.

Tip 2: Choose your consulting lawyer wisely

Many divorce lawyers try to take over and control the entire divorce case. This just sends you into litigation mode. One of the primary reasons for going through mediation is to avoid having to hire an expensive lawyer.

Even if you don’t hire an attorney for litigation, however, you might decide to work with a legal consultant alongside your mediator.  An experienced consulting lawyer can review agreements, give answers tailored specifically to your case, and act as a law coach. They may be able to predict legal outcomes if you were to go to court and estimate the cost of litigation. Between sessions, they can clarify your questions and prepare you for negotiations by evaluating best-case and worst-case scenarios, helping you identify legal claims you may not have known you are entitled to (e.g., reimbursements for joint expenses), and coaching you in negotiation techniques.

Questions to ask a potential consulting lawyer

Are you thinking of getting some legal advice from a legal coach or consulting lawyer to supplement your mediation? Here are a few questions you might ask potential candidates :

  • Have you helped clients with cases like mine before?
  • Are you familiar with divorce laws in my state/city/jurisdiction?
  • What are the possible outcomes in my mediation case?
  • Are there alternatives to mediation that you would suggest?
  • What should my next steps be?
  • What is your fee, and how is my bill calculated?

At Hello Divorce, we offer flat-rate attorney consultations in increments of as little as 30 minutes.

Tip 3: Don't panic if your mediator listens or empathizes with your spouse

Your mediator has to understand your spouse to assist you with a resolution. If you see your mediator nodding or listening intently to them, don't panic. It doesn't mean they're taking sides or believing one side more than the other.

The best mediators listen to what is important to both of you and facilitate communication to help you reach a settlement.

Related: Everything You Need to Know about Divorce Mediation

Tip 4: Prepare, prepare, prepare

Do your homework. This can't be stressed enough. List all of your assets, property, and debts. Have financial statements ready for review (present-day, date of separation, and date of marriage – especially if you are claiming a separate property interest). Provide at least three years of tax returns, three months of pay stubs, and evidence of profit or loss if you are self-employed.

Make a list of all of your expenses. Talk to your mediator about whether an appraisal of key assets should be performed. You may want to consider meeting with a divorce financial planner to determine what you need to meet your financial goals.

Suggested: 4 Ways a CDFA Can Help You Win Your Divorce

Tip 5: Identify your priorities

What are your top priorities as you enter mediation with your soon-to-be ex? For example, do you want to keep the family home? Do you want more time with the kids?

Identify your top 10 to 20 priorities as you approach mediation. List them in order of importance on a sheet of paper or in a spreadsheet. In doing so, perhaps you will discover that keeping the marital home, while it would be awesome, plays second fiddle to getting more time with your kids.

Try our free downloadable property division spreadsheet

In the downloadable property division spreadsheet below, you will see a column where you can list items, columns where each spouse can state whether they want that item, and a column for notes about the item. (Note: In this case, an “item” could refer to something tangible or something intangible, like more time with the kids.) 

Download Property Division Spreadsheet (CA sample)

Take turns going through the sheet and choosing an item to keep. You may need to insert monetary value beside some items to help keep things balanced and fair.

Using a spreadsheet like this is a good way for each of you to concretely identify your priorities. It will not resolve your sticking points, but it is a start, and your mediator will appreciate this positive step forward.

Tip 6: Separate needs from wants

What is a need?

A need is a must-have. It is necessary and essential for someone’s survival. For example, a parent needs to spend time with their child to foster a healthy emotional relationship. That same parent needs a place to live where they can tend to their own needs as well as their child’s needs.

What is a want?

A want stems from a desire or wish rather than a survival need. For example, a parent wants to spend every holiday and weekend with their child, even though the child has another adult in their life who also wants to spend holidays with them. That same parent wants to live in a home with a bedroom for each person as well as a spare bedroom for guests.

An example of compromise

As you might guess, a compromise lies somewhere in between two extremes. In mediation, parents might compromise on the number of holidays and weekends each person spends with their child. The parent who wants a home with a bedroom for each person plus a guest room may not get that, but they may get a home with a child’s bedroom that can be used as a guest room when the child is not there.

The ideal mediation outcome

The ideal outcome in mediation is this: You will get all of your needs and some of your wants.

Remember that this is the same ideal outcome for your spouse. So, what are your needs? For many people, these include health insurance, a decent home, transportation, and enough money to eat and pay the bills.

Approach mediation the same way you would approach the creation of a household budget, making sure basic needs are met before resources are spent on non-essentials. Adopting this mindset can help prepare you for the "give and take" of mediation.

Tip 7: Give to get

Think about the goals you created. You aren't going to get everything you want ... but what might you be willing to give up in exchange for something else that's more important to you? For example, would you agree to a little less child support if you had more custodial time? 

A wise client once said, "This car won't matter to me in five years, but being able to attend my son's soccer games will." Ask yourself, "Will this matter to me in a few years?" If the answer is no, move on.

Tip 8: Keep your emotions (and your expectations) in check

Your spouse may end up getting an asset you wanted. In fact, this is very likely to happen. Try to look past it. 

For example, if your spouse gets to keep the marital home you wanted, think about the benefits that could arise from it. Perhaps you no longer have to pay the mortgage. Perhaps your kids will get to stay in the same school district because your ex is keeping the address.

Tip 9: Be open to creative solutions 

You're so close to the situation right now, you might not be able to see all the potential creative solutions that exist. That's one reason why a mediator can be so helpful: They can think "out of the box" and help you find solutions you may not have thought of. 

For example, a mediator might suggest "nesting" as an alternative to the traditional child custody schedule. (It's not for everyone, but it might be right for you.) What's more, they can help you peacefully broach this type of conversation with your spouse.  

Tip 10: Download our free divorce mediation checklist

This checklist will get your divorce mediation off to a great start and empower you to get your best result.

Download Ultimate Guide to Mediation Checklist

Are there any downsides to divorce mediation?

Although mediation is a positive and money-saving divorce game plan for many people, it’s not for everyone. Here are a few potential drawbacks to mediation.

It doesn’t always work

Mediation is a voluntary process that costs money and requires effort from both spouses. There are times when two people cannot resolve their issues, even with a mediator’s help. For this reason, we advise clients to only enter divorce mediation if both people are open and willing to collaborate and accept that neither person will get everything they want in their divorce settlement.

It’s not a substitute for legal advice

Although some divorce mediators are lawyers, others are not. In any case, your mediator cannot give you legal advice. That’s not the job they’ve been hired to do.

If legal advice is truly what you need to move forward, mediation is not a feasible substitute. Instead, you might consider a la carte legal coaching or retaining with a divorce attorney.

It costs money

Granted, mediation does not cost as much money as retaining a divorce attorney. But mediators do charge their own rates. (You can read about flat-rate hourly mediation through Hello Divorce here.) 

Furthermore, when you embark on mediation, it’s usually unclear how many hours of service you will need from your mediator. Two hours of mediation for a total of $600 may seem doable, but eight hours might seem a bit more daunting. 

Of course, if you and your spouse can come to a complete agreement without a mediator’s help, you won’t have to worry about mediator fees.

Learn more about Hello Divorce's mediation options for your divorce here.

How we can help

The above tips should assist you in achieving a great outcome after a failed relationship. Hey, there's got to be a silver lining, right? Just remember: Do what it takes to walk into mediation prepared. Keep your goals in mind and your emotions in check. And know that we are here for you. 

At Hello Divorce, not only do we strive to provide helpful resources like this, but we also provide affordable divorce services and online divorce plans with flat rates so you know exactly what you're paying for. Want to talk to a real person about it? You can sign up for a free 15-minute phone consultation here.

Watch: How Divorce Mediation Can Help, Even in High Conflict
Founder, CEO & Certified Family Law Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Insights, Legal Insights
After over a decade of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, Mediator and law firm owner, Erin was fed up with the inefficient and adversarial “divorce corp” industry and set out to transform how consumers navigate divorce - starting with the legal process. By automating the court bureaucracy and integrating expert support along the way, Hello Divorce levels the playing field between spouses so that they can sort things out fairly and avoid missteps. Her access to justice work has been recognized by the legal industry and beyond, with awards and recognition from the likes of Women Founders Network, TechCrunch, Vice, Forbes, American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Leadership award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Erin lives in California with her husband and two children, and is famously terrible at board games.