Family Law Library

How to Avoid an Unsuccessful Mediation

Generally speaking, reaching a settlement is best the way to address problems associated with the breakdown of a marriage. When parties can agree on the terms of their separation through mediation or other means, the resulting agreement usually suits their needs better than if a judicial order.

When you have to litigate issues such as property division and custody in court, you rely on the judge to determine a fair solution, which can sometimes leave one or both parties feeling as though they lost, so to speak.

While settlement is highly encouraged, there are certain obstacles that can make reaching a fair settlement impossible. Awareness and acknowledgement of these hurdles is the first step in preventing them from ruining your attempts at negotiating a fair settlement.

1 – Consider Emotional Barriers

It is far too easy to let our emotions consume us when it comes to matters affecting the heart. The breakdown of a relationship can set you on an emotional roller coaster of highs and lows. You may experience feelings of guilt, hatred, anger, heartbreak, or any number of emotions. Emotions are the most common thing that frustrate settlement attempts. Here are a few tips you can use to make sure your emotional crisis won’t ruin your chance at reaching an amicable settlement.

Don’t rush into mediation. Often when parties realize that the marriage has failed they become eager to finalize the separation, move on, and start anew. Some people push their lawyers to get things done quickly because they are anxious to move on. This is not always the best course of action. Even if you think you are acting clearly and rationally, chances are your wounds are still fresh and your emotions are clouding your vision. If you show up at a mediation feeling angry, resentful, guilty, rejected, desolate, mistrustful, sad, nostalgic or any other number of emotions it can completely ruin your chances of reaching a settlement. Be sure to give your heart some time to heal before attempting mediation.

Seeking professional help in the way of counselling or therapy can also help. You may think that you don’t need any help, and that counselling isn’t for you. Perhaps you think counselling is only for couples trying to reconcile. There are many reasons you might rationalize not seeking help during this time. The bottom line is that counselling can help. These professionals can help you deal with your emotions, discuss how to help your children, and even help you make budgetary decisions as a newly single person. Often, people who do seek professional help obtain better legal results as well as emotional results.

2 – Recognise and Avoid “Stuck Spots”

Another common reason why people are unable to reach a settlement is because parties sometimes reach an impasse on a specific issue and are unable or unwilling to compromise. Often these stuck spots are not actually irreconcilable differences, but for whatever reason the parties cannot seem to move past them. The best way to avoid ruining a settlement this way is to be willing to compromise.

Approach your settlement with an open mind. Enter mediation prepared to make concessions and compromise. If you reach a stuck spot and your negotiations fail because you can’t agree on something relatively petty (like who gets the master bedroom furniture), then you are going to be forced to head to litigation. Litigation will take longer, cost more money, and you will be relying on a judge to make decisions for you.

Also as you approach settlement negotiations remember that you will not win every battle. You may think you should get the marital home, primary custody, child support, alimony, possession of the vehicles, and all the money in savings, but you simply will not win every battle. Be prepared to stand your ground on the important stuff but understand that you will not get everything you ask for.

3 – Identify any Imbalance of Power

Typically marriages do not end amicably, and more often than not, the reason for the breakdown of the marriage is complicated. Maybe someone cheated, or lied about assets, or you can’t agree on child rearing issues. The breakdown of a marriage can be contentious, and depending on the circumstances it can result in an imbalance of power.

If the imbalance of power is so great in your case, it is not an appropriate time to attempt mediation. When the imbalance of power is irreconcilable, the mediator may find it impossible to reason with the parties. This imbalance may disappear with the passage of time, but if not, the case may not be suited for mediation.

4 –Avoid Playing War Games

You clean out the bank account. Your spouse then takes your name off of the joint credit card. You respond by letting the power bill lapse. She then responds by not letting you see the children. It may start off innocent enough but war games frequently rear their ugly head when it comes to divorce proceedings. Otherwise rational people get so consumed by their emotions that they act in a totally irrational manner.

There is only one way to work around this obstacle. Call a truce. These malicious games accomplish nothing. If one or both parties enter mediation furious over these games, nothing will be accomplished.

Before you attempt settlement negotiations, familiarize yourself with common impediments and work hard to remove them from your situation. Often this is easier said than done, but ultimately you will be much happier with a fairly negotiated settlement that you both agree to than having a judge decide how to settle your issues.