When parties to a divorce reach the stage of attending mediation, proper preparation by both parties before the mediation begins can be the "make it or break it" factor to whether the parties reach an agreement.
In order to prepare for mediation, I suggest the following top five things to bring to (or to exchange with the other party prior to) mediation:
1. Financial Information - Income information will always be necessary if child support or alimony are issues up for discussion at mediation. Therefore, paystubs, W-2s and/or tax returns will be very helpful if numbers need to be crunched during mediation.
2. Proposed Division of Assets and Liabilities - If one of the issues is: "How are we dividing up our property and our bills?", it is generally advisable for both parties to sit down with a list of which items need to be divided (and which have already been divided), information about the assets/liabilities (market value, liens, and/or balance owed), and their respective preference as to who is going to keep which assets and who is going to pay what bills.
3. Proposed Division of Parenting Time - If parenting time/visitation/custody of minor children is at issue, it's generally safe to say that both parents will be awarded some kind of parenting time with the child(ren). How long the parenting time period last, who is present or not present during the parenting period and other conditions can accompany a parenting time agreement, if they are necessary. Therefore, like the proposed division of assets and liabilities, both parties should come to mediation prepared with at least one option of how parenting time will be divided between the parents.
4. An Open Mind - A mediation session is a time for negotiation. Therefore, if one party comes in completely dead-set on only one possible outcome, an agreement will probably not be reached. Both parties must be open to thinking about possible solutions to their issues and considering options that they have not thought about before.
5. Intention to Memorialize an Agreement- The most important premise of mediation is that it is a confidential process. Therefore, whatever happens at mediation cannot be discussed or brought up outside of the mediation session, not even before a Judge. If settlement options are discussed, they are not solidified until an agreement is signed that day at mediation. If no agreement is signed, all bets are off about whatever agreement was being negotiated and there is no requirement on a party to sign an agreement even if it's been verbally agreed to.
If the parties (or either of them) appear at mediation without attorneys, it is recommended that they be able to get in touch with their attorney for legal advice or review of the agreement if necessary and if the absence of their attorney's opinion will prevent them from signing an agreement while at mediation.