Divorce mediation can save you a lot of financial and emotional headaches when you’re trying to come to a separation agreement. The process can put respect and goodwill to the test, so here are three key steps to help you successfully navigate the transition.
According to one survey, 84% of parents were able to come to an agreement with their ex-spouse by the end of the divorce mediation process. “Anyone can use mediation to settle separation issues,” says Marie Ève Brown, notary and president of the Association de médiation familiale du Québec (AMFQ). Whether there are conflicts or not, an impartial mediator can help you take each person’s needs into consideration and come to the best agreement for all parties. Mediation is less expensive than legal proceedings since you split the costs, and free mediation sessions are available to parents with children of minor age or dependent children aged 18 or above.
Couples choose this route to limit the costs of obtaining a court ruling, avoid conflicts with their ex-spouse, ensure their children’s well-being and take control of decisions that will affect their family life.
According to Farah-Anne Jean-Pierre, a social worker and vice president of AMFQ, the mediator’s top priority is to look after the interests of the child. “Mediation helps parents work together for the good of the children,” she says.
Another advantage is that mediation is faster than going court. Brown points out that you can use a mediator to resolve part of your separation, such as child custody, even if you’re waiting for a court ruling.
You don’t have to be best friends with your ex to use the program—you just need to be willing to do what’s best for all parties involved. Brown believes that it’s worth a try. “It’s always in our best interests to come to an agreement ourselves than to have a dispute decided by a judge and have their decisions imposed on us,” she says.
Before the first meeting, the certified mediator will communicate with both parties to set the mandate and sign a service agreement. “Before discussions begin,” says Brown, “you have to get an idea of what the family is all about: its history, the number of children, the income of each spouse, the possessions covered by the prenuptial agreement, etc.” This step lays out the points that will be addressed. Nevertheless, it is the parties who decide what to discuss during mediation. “They might want to discuss child custody or child support, but not discuss the financial aspects, which are in the lawyers’ hands,” explains Brown.
“Sometimes ex-spouses come to mediation saying that some issues have already been settled,” says Brown. She stresses the importance of sharing this information with the mediator, who can help make sure both parties understand and take note for future reference, even if these issues are not discussed. Don’t overlook the importance of clarifying the financial aspect of separating because this issue can be difficult to discuss fairly when it’s just the two of you.
Your and your ex-spouse’s perception of events may differ. That’s why it’s essential to talk with the other person about issues and events. It’s better to do it at the start of the program and with a mediator.
At this stage, the needs of each party are determined based on the information gathered. It is important to make some suggestions and then choose the one that seems the fairest for both parties.
For Jean-Pierre, it is essential that the mediator explain to the parties that they cannot get their way on every issue. “You have to come to a viable, long-term agreement that is mutually satisfactory,” she says.
Brown and Jean-Pierre highlight that at no time should the mediator make a decision on your behalf or provide legal or psychosocial advice; their role is only to facilitate dialogue and encourage cooperation.
The mediation report is a summary of decisions made by the two parties. You can refer to it if you forget a detail. “For instance,” says Brown, “Christmas is coming. What did you decide to do with the kids?”
The agreement is not legally binding. It relies on the goodwill of both parties to respect it. You may, however, have it homologated in court to make it binding, in the form of a separation agreement. A lawyer or notary must draft the agreement and you will have to assume the costs, which can be more than $1,500.
The Ministère de la Justice pays the mediator’s fees for couples with dependent children. This free service includes:
Some fees are not covered by the Ministère. “For instance, you cannot use any of your remaining five hours to ask your mediator, if they are a lawyer, to draft a separation agreement,” says Brown. The mediator’s rate must be exactly the regulation rate of $110/hour.
You care about your family’s well-being. Everyone wants their relationship to survive life’s ups and downs, but that doesn’t always happen. Divorce mediation may be the solution to help you navigate the transition to the next phase of your life.
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