Mediation is, without a doubt, the most effective method of resolving family disputes. By choosing to negotiate your way through breakup-related conflict, you and your partner are already a step ahead compared to litigated breakups.
But to get the most out of alternative dispute resolution, check out these eight tips for a successful mediation negotiation in Florida.
Picking the right moment to mediate is crucial for a successful outcome. Many couples make the mistake of initiating litigation before they switch to mediation negotiation. While mediation can yield positive results in any scenario, starting the dispute resolution process as soon as possible is recommended. Litigating family disputes means the parties are likely to engage in an adversarial process that involves vindictiveness and negative emotions. A court involved process typically creates bitterness, resentment, and opens the door for revenge. Settling a breakup during unsuccessful litigation can be challenging because the parties find it difficult to negotiate in a friendly atmosphere while being involved in a vindictive court battle. Because of that, you should start mediation negotiations immediately after realizing you no longer want to be together. Dealing with a family dispute in a non-adversarial, neutral environment is especially beneficial for children, sparing them from stressful court experiences that often leave deep emotional scars.
Mediation involves multiple stages: opening statements, presenting information, private sessions (caucuses), and joint sessions. In the opening statement, the mediator presents themselves and their credentials. Presenting information provides the parties with the opportunity to discuss their positions, what they would like to achieve and desired outcomes. During caucuses, the mediator goes back and forth between session rooms, talking privately to the parties. If a joint session is appropriate, the parties need to be prepared to have a rational conversation about equitable distribution, custody, a parenting plan, and alimony while the mediator facilitates negotiations. Participating in each phase requires proper preparation. You need to gather facts and available documents so mediation sessions can bring about the best possible outcome. To negotiate effectively, parties must define their strategy and support their claims with appropriate materials. It is not necessary to have an attorney present, but a competent mediator will advise you to have an attorney review your agreement.
The key to a successful mediation is the free flow of information. Achieving the principal purpose of negotiation is only possible if parties exchange information freely and honestly. The mediator’s role is to facilitate conversation between the parties using special communication skills. By creating an open environment, the mediator motivates the parties to exchange facts without reservation. There is no formal discovery procedure in mediation, so gathering material in mediation is informal. The best way to contribute to mediation success is by being honest and concise. Be open about the facts, investing your efforts in good faith to help the mediator facilitate your negotiations. Mediation is confidential, so you can be transparent in sharing sensitive details. The mediator cannot disclose the details of your conversation during private sessions unless authorized. Likewise, nothing shared during the joint session will ever become part of the public record unless you choose to make it part of your agreement. In addition to being honest about the facts, it is important to be concise. While providing details is helpful, do not let too much irrelevant information create confusion.
Patience is a virtue. That is especially true in negotiations. The parties must negotiate their way through any disagreements (the mediator does not have decision-making authority). Settling can be a long and arduous process full of setbacks, requiring you to remain patient and not push the process. Because negotiation effort depends on the free flow of information, attempting to force a settlement can bring negative results. Patience is crucial in all mediation stages, but private sessions require a high degree of calmness. In caucuses, the mediator goes back and forth between session rooms, talking privately to each party. While the mediator is discussing the matter with the other party, you must wait patiently without rushing the process. That can take time, so prepare yourself in advance.
Unlike adversarial litigation, there is no all-or-nothing court battle in mediation. The parties engaging in mediation seek mutually beneficial outcomes. To succeed in mediation, you must realize that negotiation is about being open to compromise. Understand the other party’s perspective, viewing the matter from their side. There is no point in initiating negotiations without preparedness to move closer to the other side. Each party must make concessions and gradually abandon their initial position. The goal is to meet in the middle. The cornerstone to successful negotiation is compromise.
A successful negotiation preparation means you can support your position with relevant documents. Only come to mediation sessions (especially joint sessions) with all materials related to your case prepared. To negotiate effectively, you must bring facts to the table. Bringing serious offers and counteroffers is only possible with precise information about the matter. Using documents and materials during negotiations will make you look more authentic and determined in the eyes of the opposite party. That applies to family matters negotiations as well. For example, when negotiating child support or alimony, you must possess accurate information regarding income, expenses, and other financial issues. In the state of Florida, you are required to complete a Financial Affidavit prior to filing for the Dissolution of Marriage. To make things proceed more smoothly, it is very helpful for both parties to complete that document before coming to the mediation session. It will include all the necessary financial information needed to move ahead with child support, alimony, equitable distribution, allocation of debts, bank accounts, etc. issues.
The central aspect of any negotiation strategy is determining your BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). BATNA is an alternative to the desired negotiation outcome. That is the second-best result you can get from negotiations. If bargaining does not go your way, you should know the second-best option you are willing to accept. In addition to knowing BATNA, also be aware of WATNA (Worst Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). WATNA is your worst-case scenario, an outcome you cannot accept. Knowing these coordinates helps you enter negotiations with a sense of clarity and direction. You will know when to make concessions and when to hold your position. That contributes to more effective mediation.
To understand negotiation and benefit from it, you must know the mediator’s job. Unlike state-appointed judges, mediators cannot resolve the dispute by issuing a decision. In contrast to litigation attorneys, mediators do not offer legal advice or represent either party. They remain neutral throughout the process, facilitating negotiations and reconciling the parties. Successful negotiations mean you are aware of everyone’s role. The parties are in charge of the process – they determine the direction and the dynamics of negotiation. The mediator facilitates the talks and encourages them to settle. However, do not underestimate their contribution to mediation efforts. Despite their neutral role, no peaceful mediation negotiations would have been possible.
As a Florida Supreme Court-certified mediator and a certified coach, Carole McKelvey can help you reap the full benefits of mediation negotiations.
Understanding the underlying reasons for any family crisis, Ms McKelvey brings compassion, calmness, and openness to your talks.
Carole helps clients in Central Florida (Mt. Dora, Ocala, Leesburg, Tavares, and Sorrento) find a middle path that leads to compromise in family disputes.