Identify Your Key Interests in the Dispute
Video Transcribed: Today, I’d like to discuss preparing for mediation. My name is Brian L. Jackson. I am a father’s rights lawyer in Tulsa, Oklahoma with dads.law. I want to talk to you about how to get ready for mediation.
So your attorney told you you’re scheduled for mediation and have little to no experience with the court system, so you have no idea what that means. How do you prepare? What do you need to know? Well, we’re going to talk about that today.
So, to start with, I want to talk about what mediation is and what it’s not. Mediation is basically like a refereed settlement conference. And settlement is the key point here. The idea is to try to reach a compromise on your case, depending on your issues. So you may be talking about money and support payments like child support or alimony, property division, child custody, and visitation. All that stuff can be on the table, depending on what is at issue in your case.
That’s what … and the goal of mediation is to take whatever your disagreements are, in terms of you and your child’s mother or your ex-wife, as the case may be, work out your differences so you can close up your case. That’s what mediation is intended to do: try to compromise and settle your case.
What mediation is not, it is not a place to try to settle personal relational grievances. For example, things like who cheated on who, who was disrespectful to who, and who needs to be punished by the court.
That is not a topic for mediation. It is not a place to argue about who’s right either. The mediator is not going to care, and they don’t have any power to do anything about that other than they can make suggestions on how to resolve problems. But mediation is not a place to try to punish your spouse or your baby mamma, or whatever. It’s a place to try to work out your differences amicably.
Now a couple of things to know about mediation. Mediation is very informal compared to appearing in court. The rules of evidence don’t apply, and procedural rules don’t apply. And the mediator has no power to compel you to do anything. Everything that’s done in mediation is done by agreement. A mediator is there to help you settle your case, but they can’t make you agree to anything.
So the first thing to understand when you’re preparing for mediation, with that in mind, that the mediator can’t make you or your ex do anything, is to have in mind what it is you have to have to be willing … To feel okay about the settlement, what you would like to have but might be willing to compromise if the offer is appropriate, and what you don’t care as much about and can negotiate on.
So, in other words, if you’re dead set, “By god, I want joint custody,” then that should be in that first category of things that you must have to close a deal. If, on the other hand, you’re less concerned about, let’s say, who gets the car. Okay, there is something you can offer her. Maybe that’s more important to her, so there’s a potential area for compromise. Or maybe you don’t care as much about summer vacation because you have to work all week, so as long as you get two weeks in the summer that you can have, then it’s less important.
But that’s the thing to think about: have a good mental picture and an inventory of what you want. What are your goals? What are the most important things? What are the less important things? And what are the not-so-important things? And you should have that organized in your head. If you need to write it out, write it out.
Some other things to do to prepare for mediation you want to, if at all possible, have your financials ready to go if either child support or alimony is on the table. Now when are child support and alimony on the table? If you’re dealing with a child custody case, child support is always on the table, so you need your financials.
And when I say your financials, this is specifically what you need: pay stubs for the last six months; two years of taxes, your tax returns, or at least your last year’s tax return; and then if you have … And then your bank statements to show you don’t have any other income, so six months worth of bank statements or a year is even better.
And if you have any other income, you will need W-2 forms, check stubs, or something to demonstrate how much that income is. Sometimes a bank statement’s enough, but many times it’s not.
The point is that you get an accurate calculation of what child support should look like. And, ideally, you want to have her financials as well. That’s supposed to be exchanged. It doesn’t always happen. But at the very least, you want to be prepared to ensure your income is accurate.
Also, part of preparing includes being willing to let go of certain personal crap. I think it’s important to be able to discuss the issues in your case intelligently, but playing gotcha games is not productive. So stupid little things like who got drunk when or “You cheated on me with this person,” or “I don’t like that you put this kind of language in a text,” it’s not particularly productive, in most instances, to bring that up in mediation. And if you feel like that needs to be addressed, then you address that in court.
But understand this about the court, and I’ll talk more about this in a future video; most judges aren’t going to care about your petty crap either. They’re not. Family court is not a criminal court; it is not a place to punish your ex for their transgressions in the relationship. But mediation is not that; that kind of attitude works against mediation.
I think another thing, in preparing for mediation, you should also understand that if you’re dealing with money, then pragmatism should dictate. And I mean that there is a cost to going to court. There is always a cost. You’re paying your attorney hourly, probably. And you’re also putting your life on hold, waiting for a court hearing and a decision.
And that all comes at a cost that can be reflected in hard dollars. So when you are in there negotiating, understand that if the main issue is money, the calculus ought to look like this: “Is it more expensive for me to concede to her, or is it going to cost me more to go to court to fight it out and try to prove I’m right?” Because in most cases, it’s probably going to cost you more to fight it out in court.
Now, if you are really about the principle of the issue, in other words, that is your big concern, then, by all means, fight it out to your heart’s content. That’s fine, and it’s your right as an American citizen. You have a right to your day in court. Just be prepared that that day in court will cost you a lot of money.
If you go to a full-on bench trial and a divorce fighting over the money, you’re probably looking at a cost of north of $10,000 to litigate that. So if you’re talking about fighting over an amount less than that, it’s probably not a great idea to go fight it out in court because you’re going to spend that, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get that money back in terms of an attorney’s fee award. And, assuming you get the attorney’s fee award, you still have the problem collecting it.
So, when discussing money issues, I think pragmatism ought to dictate. Because at some point, you’re going to come to the idea that you don’t care anymore about being right, and you’re going to care about the bill. So I think pragmatism dictates when you’re talking about money in mediation.
Now, if you’re talking about your children, I look at it as you do what you must do for them. You do what you feel is right. But I think the key thing, in terms of mediation when there are children involved, is to think about what is going to be the best arrangement for the children. It may not necessarily mean it’s the best arrangement for you or the most convenient, but what is the best arrangement for the children? Because I’ll be blunt with you, that’s what a court will look at, so that’s how you should think about mediation.
Also, if you’re looking to do a final settlement, remember that the facts on the ground now may not always be the facts on the ground. If you have little kids and you plan a schedule around the fact that you have little kids understand they won’t be little forever.
They’re going to enter elementary school, then middle school, and then they’re going to become teenagers, and that schedule may no longer work. The best arrangements give you enough flexibility to work around that so that you do not have to go back to court because it’s expensive. As you’re going to learn, it’s very expensive to go to court quickly, so staying the hell out of court on motions to modify it to your advantage in most instances, if you can avoid it because you can spend that money on your child instead of on a lawyer.
And I imagine that’s strange coming from an attorney sitting here telling you this, but it’s … Practically speaking, you don’t want to spend your money on lawyers and courts if you don’t have to. You want to spend it on your kids. So try to plan out your arrangements to anticipate that the children’s needs will change.
Also, you must be willing to put your petty differences with your spouse aside. If you want joint custody with the children’s mother, it’s going to be a piece of that puzzle, which means you got to be able to get along. So keep that in mind too.
Some other things to do to prepare for mediation are less legal and practical. Get a good night’s sleep. Come to mediation in the right frame of mind with the idea that you’re going to compromise because you’re not going to get everything you want out of mediation.
That’s not how it works. It’s about compromise. It means you’ll get some of what you want and some of what you’re not, so it’s important to understand your priorities and not compromise on something you’re not willing to compromise. Because if you reach a deal that you don’t like, you could be stuck with it, so if you aren’t willing to compromise on something, don’t agree to compromise on it.
And that’s kind of some basic rundown on how to get ready for mediation. If you have mediation or need help with some other issue related to your children, if you ever need an Oklahoma child support lawyeror a Men’s Child Custody Lawyer in Oklahoma, you can find one at Dads.Law.