Failing to prepare is preparing to fail – how to get the most out of your mediation

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right”

Henry Ford

You can resolve the issues around your separation in a mediation session. Simple.

How do you make this happen?

  1. Have all your facts in order; and
  2. Come to the table with the mindset that you will achieve an outcome.

Obvious, right? Easy, right? Theoretically, yes, to both. Obviously you need to know what you are discussing, the ins and outs, the details, the numbers. Of course you are coming to the session intent on resolving things, why else would you have booked the mediation?

Best intentions, however, are easily clouded by the haze of emotions and the personal challenges that come with separation.

“Actually… I don’t have the password to our online banking, she did all that.”

“How much is the vintage motorbike work? Umm…”

“I think soccer training is on Wednesdays. Or karate? I don’t know if it’s before or after piano though.”

So what are the sorts of things you need to have to hand when preparing for your property settlement session?

  • Current balances of debts and assets – that includes all the bank accounts, joint and individual, and those held for your children. Credit card balances, personal loans, and interest free debts also need to be considered. These facts shouldn’t need to be contentious – ensure you have access to them online so you can have the exact balance available on the day!
  • Shares and superannuation can be a little trickier, as they vary based on the stock market. Make sure you have the most recent statement which can confirm how many shares you hold, or the most recent balance of your superannuation. The more recent, the better.
  • When it comes to tangible property, like houses, cars and other assets (boats, motorcycles, furniture etc), you will need to be able to agree on estimated values. The better prepared you are with information to support your estimate, the more likely you are to reach a full agreement. Red Book values for cars can be found online, whilst you may wish to seek a range of valuations for your properties from local real estates offering free valuations. It can sometimes be necessary to obtain formal property valuations, but this can be costly and you may wish to delay this cost pending the mediation discussions.
  • If you have a mortgage or car loan, make sure to obtain the most recent statement or have access to the balance online. Although there are often other fees associated with closing out accounts like these, these are usually nominal and have minimal bearing on overall outcomes.
  • If you have any involvement or interest in a business, company or trust, this information will need to be available during mediation. It is valuable to have to hand the most recent tax returns for the entity, as well as the company or trust deed where applicable. Inevitably, discussions around these can be difficult, so you may want to speak with your accountant or lawyer to ensure you have your head around them before coming into the session.

This is a very basic idea of what you might need to consider prior to attending family dispute resolution around a property matter, and I would always recommend seeking independent legal advice to ensure you are aware of what constitutes your property pool (all the assets and liabilities between you and your former partner) and what kind of outcome you would be seeking (under the four step approach to property settlements in family law). Being prepared with the details of your property pool, and how you can see it being separated in a practical and equitable way, will have you best positioned to reach an agreement with your former partner.

Parenting is an entirely different beast, and often you, as the parent, will be best positioned to know what you need to do to prepare. Be sure to know all the basic details for your children, what school they go to, extracurricular activities and when they attend these, and how old they are. I say this, because the number of parents who have to think twice about their children’s age would surprise you. It’s important to know, because ages = milestones = decisions that need to be made.

In short, when coming to a session to discuss parenting arrangements, come prepared with:

  • the current arrangements
  • the arrangements you want to see
  • the arrangements you would accept (some sort of compromise)
  • most importantly, if you can, your children’s views and wishes on those arrangements

In some matters, it can become necessary to involve a child consultant, who will work with your children directly, and attend the session to present you with the views of the children and assist to guide you in what might work best. I can usually get some ‘inkling’ of the need for this when I complete our intake interview, so don’t worry about that just yet. It is just handy to know that such an option exists.

Parenting arrangements can be some of the hardest matters, because unlike property settlements, time with your children is priceless. My best advice to prepare for these sessions is to have an open mind, flexibility, and keep your children at the forefront of your thoughts whenever you put something on the table. At the end of the day, whatever is in their best interest, is in yours too.