The trick to reaching an agreed resolution is ensuring clients understand their needs, the needs of the other party, and also the realities of the legal system. Gaining an awareness of alternative ways to meet the client’s needs is often essential, which sometimes can be explored by you before mediation begins, and sometimes it needs to be done in the mediation process with the help of a mediator.
In all cases:
Spending time simply listening to the client’s story and deeply understanding it is the most important thing you can do. Keep in mind, a vast amount of science-based research tells us “clients can’t hear us, until we have heard them.”
In divorce cases:
For financial issues, the goal is to gain the clearest picture possible of each party’s financial needs. A realistic financial declaration should be developed. Collecting supporting documents for income, debts, and financial accounts should be obtained so everyone has the same, and good, information to work with.
There are a variety of spreadsheets lawyers (and clients) use to help them analyze the property and debt division. PNW mediators can work with any model. One model we recommend to help organize the client’s thoughts, and to help separate the factual and emotional issues, is the center-column worksheet. Try working through it with these steps. Step 1, identify and list the assets (don’t worry about values or who gets what). Step 2, guestimate values (accurate values can be obtained later). Step 3, identify who might get what, putting guesstimated values in the H and W columns. Step 4, analyze the outcome and start exploring alternative “what if” divisions. Step 5, needed information should have been uncovered by now, so have the client obtain the best documentation and evidence for their valuation opinions. Step 6, re-analyze based on better information.
For spousal support issues, start analyzing after you have a solid financial declaration completed. If the parties are older and retirement issues are on the table, start with the property division, so you can understand how assets will impact future retirement income streams.
For parenting issues, help your client expand their awareness of their responsibility and their child’s needs by exploring how each parent has historically been involved, what their goals are for their children what they might be able to do differently in the future. If you can, engage your client in a discussion about the neuroscience of child development and how that might inform their thinking. PNW Mediators can help you with this. Engaging the client in a discussion about the details of their parenting activities can often be difficult, but details can help the mediator and the other party understand the case better. As much as you can, explore parenting time options with your client.