06 Jan Ways to Keep Mediation Costs Down
A common inquiry in the initial meeting with clients is an estimate of the cost of mediation from start to finish. Our answer is always the same: “it depends.” There are several factors that go in to determining how much the process will cost. These factors include, but are not limited to, whether or not there are minor children, the number and complexity of issues to be resolved, and the level of communication between the parties. While it is difficult to provide an exact number of how much it will cost, we do offer suggestions on ways to minimize the cost.
- Do Your Homework
In mediation, the mediator will help guide the discussion, mention issues that may be overlooked and offer suggestions. The parties, however, play a critical role in reaching resolution. The majority of the work happens in the mediation room. Nevertheless, there is homework that the parties can do to make the mediation sessions more efficient.
The most important homework is the financial declaration forms. People underestimate the importance of completing these forms, and providing the supporting documentation, as early in the process as possible. The forms provide the basis for most discussions regarding finances. For example, it is problematic to discuss support when we do not have an accurate sense of each person’s monthly expenses. Without a proper understanding of the assets and/or debts it is impossible to conceptualize the big picture and is difficult to make progress. Thus the discussions center on hypotheticals and “what ifs” and most likely will need to be readdressed once all of the information is collected.
- Come Prepared
The parties determine the agenda for each mediation session. We always start a session by asking each party what they would like to discuss that meeting. Each party should arrive at the session with a list of important issues they would like to cover. It is okay if the parties disagree as to the significant issues to address that session—that alone can be a worthy conversation. Nevertheless, having a list helps the parties remember what is important and helps prevent the parties from getting caught up in trivial debates.
- Communicate Outside of the Office
Sessions with a mediator are generally between one to two hours long. For some this may seem like an eternity, however, for others the time passes extremely quickly. If the parties are capable of having productive (albeit not necessarily easy) conversations outside of the mediation room, they may decrease the amount of time spent with the mediator. These conversations can include evaluating and/or fleshing out options developed during mediation, continuing a conversation that started in the mediation, or even determining which issues require the help of a professional and which can be addressed by the parties themselves.
- Listen to the Mediator and Follow his or her Lead
While some people are capable of having productive conversations outside the mediation room, others have a difficult time discussing contentious issues. Despite the desire to dissolve a marriage amicably, it can be extremely challenging for some to have these discussions alone. The mediator’s role is to help the parties have these conversations in a different way. For example, if tensions are elevating in the room, the mediator might suggest, that each person speak directly to the mediator rather than to the other person. Or, if the mediator notices that unresolved emotional issues are making it very difficult to have constructive conversations, the mediator might suggest engaging the services of a mental heath professional help address the emotional issues. These suggestions are meant to help people move to resolution more efficiently. If you do not follow the mediator’s suggestions for improving communication, you won’t be able to make as much progress as quickly, which can be discouraging and frustrating. Following the mediator’s lead regarding communication will make the conversations more constructive, thus reducing the amount of time required in mediation.