Here in North Texas, if you have a contested divorce or other family law issue, you will almost certainly be required to go to mediation before you go to a trial. The main reason for that is that most cases (about 90%) will settle in mediation and that saves time for the courts.
If you get a divorce in Fort Worth/Tarrant County, you should expect to go to mediation. Your divorce lawyer will attend with you. Most attorneys have done a number of mediations and can easily explain what to expect and how to prepare. In case you have concerns about the process and want some additional information, here are some tips for making the most of your mediation experience.
1. Use your mediator to gain a different perspective. The mediator is neutral and doesn't represent you or your spouse. The mediator undoubtedly has a lot of experience in mediation and in family law. Feel free to ask questions of the mediator. Be sure to listen to suggestions and consider any questions or criticisms raised by the mediator. You can get some new and different approaches from a mediator. Having a three-way conversation with your attorney and your mediator can open up your mind to new ideas.
2. Aim for solutions, not winning. You may have already figured out that there are no real winners in litigation. Decisions, deals and compromises are made, but there's a cost to everything. That applies to both sides. Stopping the fighting can feel like a win. Don't keep score, just try to find a solution that works for everyone.
3. Be flexible. Don't come locked in to a specific plan. I had a 5 minute mediation that ended because the wife insisted that she would only accept 80% of all the assets. The husband obviously wouldn't agree. The case was tried later (about $50,000 in attorneys fees later). The judge gave the wife 60%, which was what the husband offered at mediation. Unless you just want to continue to burn money on attorney fees, be willing to look at new and different solutions. You can't be forced into agreement, but you can usually find something you like.
4. Listen. You should pay attention and respectfully consider what your spouse says. There is time to think about what the other side is saying. Your attorney will probably have some suggestions, and the mediator will have some comments and questions about possible settlement terms. Take your time.
5. Come prepared. Bring all the relevant records. Get updates. Have a spreadsheet with values. Think about the issues in advance and consider different ways to solve the problems. If you need to gather more information or documents, do so ahead of time. If you need to talk with someone, go ahead and do it before the mediation.
6. Don't try to discuss the difficult issues with your spouse in advance. Generally, you are in this situation because you can't reach agreements. Sometimes, preliminary discussions just make the situation worse. People start to think there's no hope of reaching a settlement because they couldn't do it on their own without the mediators and attorneys. You can make things much worse by trying to save time and money by negotiating on your own.
7. Remember to relax. This is a slow process which has time for reflection. Don't be in a rush. There will be some down time, but I can tell you the mediator is using the time for your benefit. Take it easy. You don't have to make instant decisions. You can think about proposals and carefully look into new ideas. This is a lot less stressful than being in court.
Mediation is a great and efficient process for settling divorces. Divorce courts will almost always order you to attend mediation, so plan on it and take advantage of the opportunity to reach an acceptable agreement.