Navigating Separation and Divorce: An Essential Checklist for Successful Family Mediation

Seperation and divorce

By Cheryl Goldhart
Founder and Principal of Goldhart Law and Goldhart Mediation & Arbitration.

Separation and divorce are life-altering events that can leave you feeling lost and overwhelmed. Family mediation can provide a structured, neutral environment to resolve disputes and reach agreements. This article presents an essential checklist to help you prepare for family mediation and make the process as smooth as possible.

Identify the Family Mediation Issues

  • Issue Identification: Start by brainstorming all the potential areas of disagreement or conflict that need to be addressed during the family mediation. This could include a wide range of topics, from parenting decision making and schedules to spousal support and child support, division of property, and other financial matters related to separation and divorce.
  • Issue Categorization: Once you have a comprehensive list, categorize them into different buckets such as child-related issues, financial issues, property issues, etc. This will help you to manage the issues more effectively during the family mediation process.
  • Issue Prioritization: Prioritize the issues within each category. Determine which issues are most critical to you and which ones you’re more flexible on. This will help you to stay focused during the family mediation process and ensure that the most important issues are addressed first.
  • Needs and Wants Analysis: For each issue, conduct a needs and wants analysis. Identify what you absolutely need (non-negotiables) and what you would like to have (negotiables). This will provide a clear roadmap for your negotiation strategy during the family mediation.

Prepare Documentation for Family Mediation

  • Financial Documentation: Start by gathering all necessary financial documents. This includes bank statements, tax returns, investment portfolios, retirement accounts, property deeds, and vehicle titles. Create a systematic filing system for these documents so that they can be easily accessed during the family mediation process.
  • Legal Documentation: If there are existing legal agreements or court orders, such as a separation agreement or parenting order, have these documents readily available. Also, if you have completed Ontario Form 13 or 13.1 financial statement, this should be included as it provides a detailed financial disclosure.
  • Supporting Evidence: Prepare any personal documents that could support your case. This could include emails, text messages, photographs, or other forms of evidence that could support your position on various issues. Ensure these are organized and easily accessible.
  • Documentation Review: Review all your documents to ensure they are up-to-date and accurate. This includes checking dates, amounts, and other details. Any discrepancies could potentially undermine your credibility during the family mediation.

Consult a Lawyer for Family Mediation

  • Legal Consultation: Schedule a consultation with a lawyer to understand your legal rights and obligations relating to separation or divorce. They can provide advice tailored to your specific situation and help you to prepare for the family mediation. In particular, they can advise on family law issues such as parenting and access schedules, spousal support and child support and division of property.
  • Legal Perspective: Discuss the issues you’ve identified with your lawyer. They can provide a legal perspective, help you understand potential outcomes, and guide you in preparing your case.
  • Legal Strategy: Work with your lawyer to develop a legal strategy for the family mediation. This could include preparing arguments, identifying strengths and weaknesses in your case, and developing negotiation tactics.
  • Legal Documentation Review: Have your lawyer review all your legal and financial documents to ensure they are accurate and complete. They can also help you understand the implications of these documents and how they might impact the family mediation.

Prepare Your Family Mediation Case

  • Position Statement: For each issue, prepare a brief statement outlining your position and the reasons for it. Practice articulating your position to ensure you can communicate it clearly and concisely during family mediation.
  • Evidence Preparation: Identify any evidence that supports your position. This could be financial documents, emails, or personal testimony. Organize your evidence so it can be easily presented during the family mediation.
  • Question Preparation: Prepare a list of questions or points for clarification for the other party. This can help address any uncertainties or assumptions and facilitate open communication during the divorce or separation mediation process.

Plan for Negotiation in Family Mediation

  • Negotiation Strategy: Develop a negotiation strategy. This could include deciding when to bring up certain issues, how to respond to offers, and how to present your own proposals. Your strategy should be flexible and adaptable, depending on how the family mediation progresses.
  • Compromise Areas: Identify areas where you are willing to compromise. Having a clear idea of your ‘give and take’ boundaries can help keep the negotiation process productive and focused during the divorce or separation mediation process.
  • Negotiation Techniques: Familiarize yourself with basic negotiation techniques. This could include active listening, using “I” statements to express your views, and understanding the difference between positions and interests.
  • BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement): Consider your BATNA. This is what you’ll do if you can’t reach an agreement through family mediation. Having a clear BATNA can help you stay realistic about your expectations and make informed decisions during the mediation process.

Mental and Emotional Preparation for Family Mediation

  • Stress Management Techniques: Family mediation can be emotionally challenging. Learn and practice stress management techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or progressive muscle relaxation to help stay calm and focused during the process.
  • Emotional Preparedness: Acknowledge and prepare for the emotions that may arise during family mediation. This could include feelings of frustration, anger, or sadness. Consider strategies to manage these emotions effectively.
  • Support System: Identify a support system, such as a trusted friend or family member, who can provide emotional support during the process. Discuss your feelings and concerns with them before and after the family mediation sessions.

Logistical Preparation for Family Mediation

  • Mediation Details: Confirm the date, time, and location of the family mediation. Ensure you have clear directions to the location and plan your route in advance to avoid any last-minute stress.
  • Childcare Arrangements: If you have children, make necessary childcare arrangements for the duration of the family mediation session.
  • Time Management: Ensure you have cleared your schedule for the day of the family mediation. You don’t want to feel rushed or distracted, so it’s important to dedicate this time solely to the mediation process.

Post-Family Mediation

  • Agreement Review: If an agreement is reached, take the time to thoroughly review it. Make sure you understand all the terms and conditions.
  • Legal Review: If your lawyer has not attended the family mediation with you, it is highly recommended and in your best interest to have the proposed agreement reviewed by your lawyer to ensure that you have a complete understanding and appreciation of its terms, conditions and implications and that it is legally sound and in your best interest.
  • Next Steps: If an agreement is not reached, discuss the next steps with your family mediator and lawyer. This could include further family mediation sessions, arbitration, or court proceedings.

Additional Considerations for Family Mediation

  • Patience and Open-mindedness: Family mediation can be a lengthy process, and it’s important to approach it with patience. Being open to different perspectives and solutions can also facilitate a smoother process.
  • Confidentiality: Understand that everything said during family mediation is confidential and cannot be used in court. This encourages open and honest communication.
  • Follow-up Actions: After the family mediation, there might be follow-up actions required such as signing legal documents, making payments, or other tasks. Ensure you understand what is expected of you post-family mediation.
  • Reflection: After the family mediation, take some time to reflect on the process, the outcome, and what you’ve learned. This can help you process your feelings and start planning for the future.
  • Support Network: Leverage your support network during this time. This could include friends, family, or professional counselors. It’s important to take care of your emotional health during this potentially stressful time.
  • Self-Care: Ensure you are taking care of your physical health during this potentially stressful time. This includes eating healthy, getting regular exercise, and ensuring you get enough sleep.

Final Thoughts

Remember, every family situation is unique, and this checklist should be adapted to fit individual circumstances. It is highly recommended that you seek legal advice from a family law lawyer prior to participating in family mediation in respect of a separation or divorce.

If you’re going through a separation or divorce and need help navigating the process, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our team is here to provide guidance and support. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards a peaceful resolution.

Additional Resources

Justice Canada Family Law – This is a comprehensive resource from the Canadian government that provides information on family law in general.

Ontario Family Law Rules – The official family law rules for Ontario, Canada.

Legal Aid Ontario – Legal Aid Ontario provides legal assistance for low-income people living in Ontario.

Cheryl Goldhart is a mediator that can make a difference.Cheryl’s notable experience and expertise include:

  • nearly 40 years of experience as a family law lawyer;
  • being recognized by the Law Society of Ontario as a Certified Family Law Specialist;
  • designation as an Accredited Family Mediator by the Ontario Association for Family Mediation;
  • being a Designated ADR Professional of the ADR Institute of Ontario;
  • Masters degree in counselling;
  • Member of Board of Directors of Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario;
  • being a recipient of many awards and accolades for her work and contributions in the area of Family Law, including the Ontario Bar Association’s Award For Excellence In Family Law, which is awarded to a single outstanding nominee annually.

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