Divorce Mediation Sessions: What Goes on Behind Closed Doors

By Cris Pastore, Main Line Family Law Center

What is discussed in divorce mediation sessions?

If you are considering using divorce mediation as the option for your separation or divorce, you might find it helpful to understand what is actually discussed in the mediation room. Note that the process described here takes a holistic, all-in-one, comprehensive team-oriented approach to divorce mediation, which may vary from other divorce mediation process. However, as in any style of mediation, you are not expected to have all or any of the issues worked out in advance - that's why you are in mediation. Expect to feel emotional, but also treat the mediation purely as a business transaction where emotions like anger and guilt will not be permitted to drive the process.

Divorce Mediation Sessions

Parenting Mediation Session

In your first mediation session, you and your spouse would meet with a parenting mediator, experienced and trained to mediate all types of family conflict related to the transition of separation and divorce.

If you have children under the age of 18, it is highly likely that your first session will be a parenting mediation.

The goal of the parenting mediation is to have a comprehensive, yet fluid parenting plan in place that addresses both the current needs and best interests of the children as well as other family dynamics, but that also stands the test of time as the children's needs change over time.

A comprehensive agreement, with the assistance of the parenting mediator, can usually be accomplished in as little as one 2-2.5 hour session. This plan, once finalized and signed by the parties, becomes a legally-binding agreement which is fully enforceable in a court of law once approved by the assigned divorce judge.

A typical parenting agreement will address the following at a minimum:

•    Parenting time (physical custody and overnight time)decision making (legal custody)
•    Transportation and exchanges
•    Holiday time/special occasions
•    Annual vacations and school breaks
•    Contact with relatives and significant others
•    A dispute resolution process through mediation
•    Contact information, relocation and foreign travel
•    Social activities and school functions
•    Communications and mutual decision-making
•    School districts attended and access to records

Oftentimes - and understandably, the parenting session is the most emotional of all your mediation sessions. That's why some couples opt for a pre-mediation session with a divorce coach. While parenting mediation is not to be used as a parenting coaching session, there are often opportunities to weave this guidance in as the situation calls for it, as building that foundation of trust of one another to parent separately is critical to making such important decisions regarding children.

Financial Mediation Sessions

In as little as 1-2 weeks after the parenting session has been completed, the spouses will meet with our attorney-mediator for usually between 1-2 finanical mediation sessions (or more, if necessary). Each session lasts about 2- 2 1/2 hours in length, and is usually a sufficient amount of time to discuss and obtain mutually fair and creative resolutions around the following issues:

A typical list of issues discussed and resolved in financial mediation sessions are as follows:

•    Equitable distribution of marital property, including real estate, retirement, auto, valuables, etc.
•    Equitable distribution of marital debts, including house debt, credit cards, loans, etc.
•    Child support
•    Spousal support and alimony
•    Life insurance issues
•    Taxation issues upon a divorce
•    Family medical insurance issues
•    College and college savings for children
•    Estate matters
•    Financial planning guidance
•    Post-separation/divorce budget analysis

The attorney-mediator will require full disclosure of all financial documents before the sessions begin so that all cards are on the table for discussion. In the first session, the attorney-mediator will review the entire marital inventory with the clients and they will come to agreement on what are the date of separation values of all assets and debts that are subject to equitable division.

Spouses will also discuss the applicability of a child support payment in accordance with the applicable state support guidelines. In our state, they are called the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines. Spouses will also discuss and negotiate all other child-related expenses over and above the basic child support mandate.  

Spouses will also review their post-separation budgets to determine what their living expenses will be so they can be more financially secured in the residence they wish to reside in after the divorce is final.  Further, spouses will discuss the division of all personal property and contents of the marital home as well as family medical insurance issues.

In the second and subsequent sessions (if any), spousal support and alimony will be covered, as well as life insurance, estate matters, taxation issues, college expenses for children and then coming to resolution on the equitable division of the net marital assets for the settlement. 

In between sessions, spouses may ask our attorney-mediator any question they may have that is substantive to the mediation. All communications with the mediator is made with the other spouse either being present, or otherwise being made aware of the communication. As a neutral third-party to the process, the mediator cannot advise any one spouse on how to negotiate with the other, or what settlement offer(s) they should be making.

Rather, it is the responsibility of the spouses to negotiate a fair settlement together, after they have been armed by the attorney-mediator with all the legal knowledge, information and perspective they will need in order to feel confident in making settlement offers that are fair, reasonable and practical for everyone concerned.    

Some spouses will opt for co-parenting counseling, or having children work with a therapist, divorce financial planning, and/or estate planning in conjuction with the mediation process.

About the Author

Cris Pastore, Main Line Family Law Center

Picture of Cris Pastore, Main Line Family Law Center Cris Pastore, Esq. is co-founder and managing attorney-mediator at Main Line Family Law Center, a divorce mediation firm with seven offices along the Main Line and Center City, Philadelphia. A practicing attorney for over 20 years, Cris has focused exclusively on divorce mediation since 2007, when he grew increasingly frustrated by destructive nature of the court-contested divorce process. Cris has made it his personal mission to revolutionize this area of practice to preserve family relationships and help families emerge healthy and whole. Follow Cris at @healthy_divorce.

Now that you are more familiar with the divorce mediation process, you may wish to share this article with your spouse, schedule a consultation, or use it to help you get ready for your first mediation session.

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Topics: Healthy Legal Options