Many thanks to my good friends at the Mosten Guthrie Academy, who first posted this article on October 13, 2021.Mosten Guthrie
Mediation is a powerful tool that can help divorcing or separating families in conflict address issues and find agreements in unexpected and beneficial ways. Usually, a breakdown in relationships occurs when people fail to communicate with each other adequately. However, mediation can often help before conflicts even arise. A good mediator may help the clients find ways to anticipate disputes and make plans before the conflict arises. Here are three ways that you can use mediation to avoid conflict in the family law context.
PREPARE FOR NECESSARY CHANGES TO CO-PARENTING PLANS
The first way families can use mediation before conflict occurs is to anticipate necessary changes to co-parenting plans. Time and again, one parent or the other will go to court to enforce a parenting plan without considering whether the current parenting plan no longer meets a child’s needs. Older children may have different relationships with their parents than when they were younger, requiring mediated changes to the parenting plan. In addition, a parent’s life changes may require mediated changes to parenting plans. Parents may remarry, change jobs, move, have medical issues, or changes economic situations. As part of a divorce proceeding, the couple could anticipate these changes and agree to evaluate the co-parenting plan with the assistance of a mediator every few years, for example to ensure that they are meeting their child’s ongoing best interests.
USE A MEDIATOR TO PREPARE AN EMERGENCY PARENTING KIT
A second way that a mediator can help families before conflict arises is to prepare for emergencies. Consider, for example, COVID-related emergency school closures. The parents could mediate in advance where the child will be attending online school or where the child will be spending the school day if schools close unexpectedly. Anticipating and mediating these situations in advance will cause less stress for the family and the child.
In addition to preparing for COVID-related emergencies, a mediator can help the family prepare for other emergencies that may arise. A mediator may help parents and co-parents plan for the death or disability of the parents. Many couples fail to prepare for such a scenario. The extended family, if any, is left to sort out the children’s best interests with little guidance. The mediator can help the parents identify in advance an appropriate caregiver and how that caregiver should ensure ongoing relationships with other extended family members.
USE A MEDIATOR TO HAVE PRE-WEDDING FINANCIAL ISSUES
The third way mediators can help families prepare for conflict is to mediate a prenuptial agreement to help each spouse understand the monetary issues before the wedding occurs. Talking about money is a hard thing to do – especially for couples preparing for a wedding. However, a mediator could help the clients have open and honest discussions about their finances before the wedding, which may be especially important for couples entering second or third marriages. When second marriages are involved, one of the clients may want to preserve wealth to benefit older children from the previous marriage. This could be a surprise to the second or third spouse if not discussed in advance. A mediated prenuptial agreement could protect the children’s interests, the new spouse’s interests, and open lines of communication in a way that did not previously exist.
A mediated prenuptial agreement can be helpful in many other situations such as when the couple brings unequal wealth to the marriage or when one of the clients brings significant debts to the marriage. A mediator can help the clients enter into the marriage with a complete understanding of each person’s financial expectations. The mediator can help develop a fair and voluntary agreement. Both clients should share the agreement with an individual attorney to ensure legal compliance with your state’s laws.
Because circumstances can change throughout the marriage, couples who mediated a prenuptial agreement could continue to evaluate whether that agreement remains appropriate for their circumstances. They can continue to address their needs through mediation and modify the prenuptial agreement into a modified postnuptial agreement, ensuring that the family’s ongoing needs are met as they change.
Mediation is a powerful tool after conflict arises. However, a mediator’s ability to help before conflict should be considered to help families plan and avoid conflict before it occurs.