What to Expect in Mediation

The first mediation sessions happened in the 1960s, and at the time, experts thought they stemmed from displeasure with the legal system. Some lawyers advised their clients to avoid them. A lot has changed since then. 

Now, plenty of legal experts believe that mediation can help their clients avoid nasty, expensive, and lengthy divorce battles in court. For many couples, mediation is the best way to end their marriages quickly and amicably

If you're considering mediation, here's what you need to know. 

What is mediation?

During mediation, a neutral third party helps you and your spouse reach an agreement on your differences. 

Mediators can help divorcing couples do the following:

  • Identify roadblocks
  • Clarify misunderstandings
  • Explore solutions
  • Negotiate settlements 

Both parties must agree to the terms, so the risk of giving away too much is low. But this process only works if both parties enter the discussion willing to listen and compromise. 

Experts say about 85% of mediations are successful. Even when people don’t want to enter this process, they can come to a resolution and move forward with their divorce without entering a courtroom. 

What to expect from your divorce mediation

Mediations are both informal and flexible. Couples are at the center of the mediation, and professionals can alter their approach to help clients come to terms and move forward. 

Mediation often moves through stages, such as these:

  • Introductions: Mediators gather information from both parties and explain how the process works. 
  • Identifications: Couples outline what is standing in the way of an amicable divorce and offer evidence of their position. 
  • Discussion: Mediators help spouses uncover what they want, why they want it, and what they need from the divorce process. 
  • Negotiation: Couples explore solutions to their issues and find a path forward. 
  • Documentation: When spouses agree, they write down their arrangements for the courts. 

Couples don't need to get along for mediation to work. The process is designed for people who have issues with one another. But spouses should at least be civil and polite to one another during their mediation sessions. 

Mediation can take hours, especially if you have plenty to discuss. Your mediator should tell you how long the session will last. Prepare for a long day filled with discussion and negotiation. 

What you should know about mediators

A mediator isn't a judge or referee. Instead, think of your mediator as a coach. This professional can help you learn how to speak up for what you want and negotiate effectively. When you feel invested in the process and the solutions, you're more likely to accept the outcome. 

Mediators often work so subtly that people feel like they came to agreements independently. Your mediator may not speak often or control the discussion. But they will be hard at work behind the scenes to help resolve issues. 


How to prepare for mediation

Your mediation works best when you enter the discussion feeling calm, cool, collected, and prepared. 

Here's what you can do in the days leading up to your mediation:

  • Identify what is important to you. Is it important for you to have your children full-time? Is it critical for you to stay in the family home? How much money do you need to live comfortably?
  • Consider your partner's point of view. Why would your partner want your children full-time? How attached is your partner to your home? How much money can your partner afford to pay you each month?
  • Prepare for the worst. If the mediation isn't successful, what happens next? Can you handle a court case?
  • Gather information. Paperwork like payroll stubs, childcare bills, mortgage bills, and more could help you make your case effectively. 

Dress for a long day. Wear layers so you can add or subtract clothing due to the temperature of the room. Ensure your room has plenty of water, so you can hydrate as needed. 

Make the most of your mediation

Your mediation is an opportunity to end your marriage and stay out of the courtroom. It's a big day, and a lot is at stake. 

Keep these principles in mind:

  • Be honest and courteous, even when you disagree
  • Be open to a differing opinion, but don't feel pressured to agree with everything 
  • Stay open to ideas that can solve your problems 
  • Be realistic about how much a court case can cost 

4 mediation questions to help you prepare 

You've likely thought about your divorce at length, from the time you filed until today. But thinking over a few questions could help you walk into your mediation with a bit more confidence. This bit of preparation can help to smooth the process.

Try to answer these questions:

  1.  What's the most important issue standing in the way of your divorce?
  2.  Why can't you solve this problem right now?
  3.  What is most important to your spouse? 
  4.  Why is it hard for you to give your spouse what they want?

Don't walk into your mediation with a firm list of things you will and won't accept. Negotiation is at the heart of any successful discussion, and being willing to compromise will ensure a better outcome. 

Thinking hard about what life might be like after your divorce, and what you can and can't accept, can help you get what you want. 


  5 Tips for Winning in Mediation. (April 2018). American Bar Association. 
  Mediation/Alternative Dispute Resolution. Indiana Judicial Branch. 
  Is Mediation Your Best Option? (October 2013). America's Small Business Development Center Network. 
  Advantages of Mediation. U.S. Office of Special Counsel. 
  Considerations for a More Successful Mediation. (January 2022). Attorney at Law Magazine. 
  The Use of Mediation. The Missouri Bar. 
  What Makes a Good Mediator? (September 2022). Harvard Law School. 
  Preparing for a Mediation. United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Co-Founder & President
Divorce Preparation, Divorce Process, Divorce Guidelines, Legal Insights

Heather is Hello Divorce's co-founder, President and Chief Content Officer, and our resident expert on divorce rules, procedures and guidelines across the states. Heather uses her content background, deep legal knowledge, and coding skills to author most of our state-specific divorce software. Heather joined Hello Divorce two months into a planned year-long vacation from the start-up world because she was convinced that the legal world is one of the only things left that truly needed disruption. Since her expertise (obsession) is making complex, frustrating processes easier – and even enjoyable – for consumers, Heather leads the product, customer service, marketing, and content teams at Hello Divorce.

Heather has a Master's in Journalism from Northwestern University and a BA from the University of Notre Dame. Heather lives in California with her husband, two kids, and too many pets. You can often find her answering Hello Divorce's free info calls on weekends, and in her free time, she dabbles in ukulele, piano, and electric bass.