The Mediation Process – Both Structured and Flexible

The Mediation Process – Both Structured and Flexible by Susan Ingram

{3:00 minutes to read}

The discussions I lead my couples through in mediation need to be structured, but they also need to be open to “fluid thinking.” By that, I mean the type of thinking that allows for the continued interplay between the various decisions that must be made.

I recently had my first session with a divorcing couple (we’ll call them Sarah and Ken) with two young children. The first question they asked me was how much child support would be paid by the husband (the higher earner) to the wife. They thought they’d base all of their other decisions upon the “factual answer” to that one question.

The thing is, mediation doesn’t work that way – and for good reason. You don’t make an important decision in a vacuum, based upon one specific fact. There are many issues and pieces of information that need to be reviewed and discussed before good decisions are made.

As I usually do early in the mediation process, I asked Sarah and Ken to each complete a budget of their monthly expenses. Both were already living separately and equally sharing the parenting of their children, so they at least had a current, reality-based starting point for their discussions.

I also asked Sarah and Ken for their W-2 statements and pay stubs in order to calculate gross and net income for each of them. Once they’ve agreed upon their budget expenses, I’ll factor in their net incomes in order to determine the differential (plus or minus) between their expenses and the income they have available to pay those expenses. It’s at this point that it most often makes sense to discuss the statutory child support obligations.

The discussion about the amount of child support doesn’t necessarily end there, however. This decision is interlaced with other factors we will be discussing in our future sessions. Decisions will need to be made about other financial issues, including the value and possible sale of the marital home; whether maintenance (alimony) is warranted; and how the other assets of the marriage (including retirement and other accounts) will be divided.

With all of this information now available, Sarah and Ken can begin to make knowledgeable and appropriate decisions. Only when that has been done can a couple have confidence that they’ve reached a fair agreement that adequately meets each of their needs.

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