Divorce is never easy. It can be extremely difficult for spouses to communicate or see eye-to-eye in the aftermath of a separation. Divorce mediation is an increasingly popular choice for separating spouses as an alternative to the costly adversarial family litigation process.
Mediation can be a great option for you if you are going through a separation. The mediation process can help you and your former partner overcome tension and negative emotions that may otherwise get in the way of reaching a fair and reasonable resolution of your family law issues. Mediation also gives you and your ex the power to decide what is best for each of you, your children, and your finances instead of having a decision imposed on you by the court.
Here is what you need to know about the mediation process in BC divorce. If you have questions or want to know if mediation is right for you, we welcome you to reach out to our British Columbia mediation attorney.
What Is Mediation in BC?
Mediation is a less formal, more flexible, and private approach to resolving family law disputes. A specially trained mediator works with the parties to negotiate and collaborate to reach an agreement on disputed issues. The mediation process can be used to resolve issues such as:
Conflicts regarding fair division of property and debts
Parenting arrangements for your children (decision-making and parenting time, which used to be known as "child custody" and contact/parenting time which used to be known as “access”)
Mediation is an option for married spouses, common law couples and co-parents alike, and has proved successful in both contested divorce and uncontested divorce cases. Even contentious divorces and complex issues can be resolved at mediation.
What Is the Role of the Mediator?
The mediator is a neutral third party. The mediator can not decide disputes or make decisions for you. Instead, the mediator uses their specialized training to help you focus on issues, find common ground, and work toward reaching a consensus on disputed issues.
BC family law mediators can’t provide you or your former partner with legal advice at mediation. For that reason, it’s strongly recommended that you have a skilled family lawyer on your side at mediation to ensure your legal rights and interests are known and protected.
What Is the Goal of the Mediation Process in Divorce?
There are several goals of the mediation process, including preserving relationships which is especially important if you have young children and need to co-parent going forward. Mediation keeps the focus on interests and needs rather than the more rigid, position-based approach that is typical in family litigation. The overarching goal of mediation is to resolve some or all areas of conflict. If resolution is achieved by way of a negotiated separation agreement at mediation, the spouses avoid the cost, stress, and expense of a trial.
A separation agreement is a binding contract between you and your spouse that covers issues arising from the breakdown of your relationship. Ideally, you should get independent legal advice from a divorce lawyer before starting the mediation process and be represented by a lawyer at the mediation. At a minimum, you should have legal advice before signing any mediated separation agreement. A skilled divorce attorney can explain your options, protect your rights and interests, and alert you to issues that might otherwise be missed.
What Are the Main Steps in the Mediation Process During Divorce?
These are the main steps in the divorce mediation process in BC:
1. Agree to attend mediation. Mediation works best when parties are willing and voluntarily participate. That being said, if you have a family claim in the BC Supreme Court, you can file a Notice to Mediate which requires attendance at mediation.
2. Select a mediator and participate in pre-screening. The parties speak separately with the mediator to provide some background information. The mediator will screen for violence and power imbalances and assess if mediation is suitable.
3. If mediation is suitable, a Mediation Agreement will be signed by all parties. The Mediation Agreement sets out the ground rules and stipulates that discussions at mediation are confidential. This means settlement offers can not be brought up in court and the mediator can not be called to testify.
4. Schedule the date, time, and place for the mediation. Many BC family mediations are resolved in a one-day session, but the length and number of mediation sessions will ultimately depend on the complexity of the issues.
5. Prepare for the mediation to make it more effective and efficient. Here are some key ways to prepare:
Get legal advice from an experienced family lawyer;
Reflect on the issues in dispute and consider what a fair outcome would look like to you;
Gather supporting documents, such as court orders, written agreements, income tax returns, bank statements, property valuations, pension valuations, and documents pertaining to your investments, business interests, assets, debts, etc.
Have your lawyer prepare a mediation brief outlining key facts and your proposal for resolving issues.
6. At the mediation, the process typically begins with the mediator providing an opening statement to explain the goals, roles and the ground rules that all participants are expected to follow. Next, each party has a chance to provide an opening statement setting out their view of the issues and ideal outcomes. Once that is done, the parties can have a joint discussion of issues or the parties can move to separate rooms, with the mediator acting as a go-between while the parties continue to share information, discuss the strengths and weakness on key points, and exchange settlement offers.
7. If an agreement is reached on some or all of the issues, typically the mediator will put the terms of the agreement into writing and each party will sign the agreement. The agreement can be in the form of a Separation Agreement or a Court Order.
8. If you cannot reach an agreement on some or all of the issues, it is open to you to meet again for another mediation session or to continue negotiations through your respective lawyers, with the ultimate goal of reaching an agreement to avoid a trial and the expense associated with it.
You should bear in mind that the mediation process can differ based on the type of issue you are mediating. Your divorce lawyer and the mediator will explain and clarify the specific process for your mediation before the mediation starts.
Trusted Advice and Guidance to Resolve Family Law Issues
Even the most difficult and personal issues can be resolved at mediation especially when the main goal is to come to a separation agreement that is fair to both spouses.
Fairness can be assured with the right guidance and experienced legal advice. Valerie M. Little is a family lawyer with over 30 years of experience. She is also a certified family law mediator. Ms. Little is skilled in providing solutions to resolve family disputes outside the courtroom and has experience in all family law processes, including negotiation, mediation and collaborative divorce.
If you are looking for more harmonious ways to resolve your divorce case, call Valerie M. Little Law Corporation today at 604-526-3333. Ms. Little assists clients throughout Metro Vancouver, including New Westminster, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Langley, Surrey, Aldergrove, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Vancouver, North Vancouver, West Vancouver, White Rock, Richmond, Delta, Ladner, Squamish, and Whistler.
She listens. She cares. She understands.