Unless there are safety concerns (i.e., domestic violence), parties to family law proceedings in Colorado are required to attend mediation before a final hearing. Mediation uses a third-party neutral who goes back and forth between the parties to help them reach a settlement. In preparation for attending mediation, you should ask yourself the following questions.
What Do I Hope to Accomplish?
You should make a list of your goals for resolving the dispute. What are the must-have items that need to be included in any settlement agreement? What things can you live without, but would be nice to have? What is not important to you at all?
Distinguishing between “must have,” “nice to have,” and “not important” items will help your attorney develop a strategy for negotiating.
You should also think about your goals beyond the mediation session. Maybe you want to learn the reasons behind your co-parent’s position, so that you can try to understand why you disagree. Maybe you want to avoid a lengthy court battle. Are you trying to “get back” at your co-parent, or prove that you are right? Do you hope that mediation can be the first step in resolving the conflict, and working toward a healthier co-parenting relationship?
What Outcome Can I Live With?
One of my mentors once told a client, “If both parties leave mediation a little bit irritated, it means we reached a good settlement.” I have found this to be very true. Neither side is going to get everything they want at mediation. However, most clients find that the certainty of fashioning their own agreement, as opposed to the uncertainty of what a judge will do, is worth making some concessions.
Evaluate the Emotional Toll.
At the end of a case, I frequently hear from my clients that they were surprised by the emotional toll the court hearings took on them. Court proceedings are a disruption to your life. In addition to the time needed for the actual hearing itself, there is also time spent preparing the case, talking to your lawyer, gathering documents, and identifying witnesses. Additionally, outcomes from judges are uncertain, leading to stress of not knowing what the result will be.
If you have children, you will have to continue co-parenting with the other party after the hearing is over. Consider whether litigation and cross-examination will help or hinder that continuing relationship in the future (hint: it is very difficult to have an amicable relationship with a co-parent after a protracted court battle).
Although it can be hard, you should try to assign a value to the certainty of reaching a settlement and not having to prepare for and attend a court appearance.
Consider the Monetary Cost.
Preparing for a hearing is the most expensive part of any case. You should have a discussion with your attorney about how much it will cost to go all the way to a contested hearing. Weigh that cost against the settlement to determine whether it is worth it.
Do you need help preparing for mediation? I’m here if you have questions.