Planning for the First Session

Mediating Family and Divorce Issues | Starting Your First Family Mediation Service

I am often asked when mediating, “how do we start?”

This is a great question.

Mediating Family Conflict for the First Time

The first mediation session will include signing an Agreement to Participate in Mediation and a Fee Agreement. Once the housekeeping is completed, the mediator will help you develop an initial agenda.

There are many ways to generate an agenda. I have provided examples and illustrations below.

  • High Priority Family Mediation Issues

    There are times that mediating issues immediately due to tight deadlines or pressing issues takes precedence. Examples could include:

    • There is an application deadline for a private school in two week’s time and the parents need to decide if they are going to apply
    • A child was just found to be eligible for special education services and the parents need to decide if they accept the school’s recommendations within the next few days
    • A parent has a two-week business trip in ten days and provisions needs to be made for child care
    • A teenager was asked to go to a concert in three days and needs to give an answer to her friend tomorrow
    • There is a hearing about child support and alimony modifications in one month and the parents would like to resolve the dispute beforehand
  • Low-Hanging Fruit

    Choosing topics that might be easier to discuss or resolve can be an effective way to start family mediation services. Mediating easier topics can be useful to generate momentum with the process, practice effective communication and negotiation skills, and/or establish some goodwill between the parties. Examples could include:

    • Memorializing parts of a parenting plan that have been working well and both parents want to continue
    • Picking something that you know is important to the other party, and that you can be flexible around
  • Information Sharing

    Due to the adversarial nature of many conflicts, particularly those that are court-involved, communication may have broken down. Sometimes it is helpful to start by sharing information before mediating the disputes. Examples include:

    • Changes in your life circumstances such as a job transition or a move
    • Updates on the children, such as school progress, information from the child therapist, or child’s recent playdates
  • Asking Questions

    Some parties to the mediation like to begin by gathering information from the other person, or the mediator. Examples could include:

    • What they anticipate their future living situation to be
    • Request updated financial information
    • Ask the mediator for referral information for experts such as attorneys, real estate professionals, or accountants
    • How the other person’s parents are doing
  • Communication Needs

    Some start by establishing expectations about how to communicate and negotiate with one another. This can increase the chance of constructive conversation. For example:

    • Make requests that the other person avoid referencing certain hot-button issues from the past
    • Explain that you might need a certain amount of time to think about proposals before making decisions
    • Ask the mediator to prompt you to take a deep breathe if you become visibly upset
  • Review Documentation

    Sometimes it is helpful to focus on a concrete task to help get started. Examples could include:

    • Ask the mediator to review how to fill out the Financial Forms
    • Review a Divorce Issues Checklist of topics
    • Assess progress on decisions made from a previous mediation or agreement
  • Identify Goals

    Clarifying each parties’ goals and objectives for the mediation process can be helpful, as agenda items can then flow directly from those specific goals.

    There is no wrong way to start the process. And there are other useful approaches to thinking about preparing for a first session, such as the ideas in this article. The mediator will guide you through figuring out how to begin the process in a manner that best meets your needs, and helps you to resolve the issues you are mediating.

    In the end, as any good mediator will say, it’s up to you!

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