Are there recommended steps or approaches (worksheets?) for preparing for a divorce mediation meeting? Should the mediator get any background information about the situation, or can/should the mediator function with no knowledge of the specifics of the charges and counter-charges? If background information is in order, who provides it. What is the role of the Guadian ad Litem (GAL) in a mediation meeting? Does the GAL take an active role on behalf of the offspring or just reply to inquiries.
Usually and ideally, a GAL would take an active role in parenting questions, while taking a secondary role in property division and maintenance with the primary concern being that the economic arrangements are sustainable and don't subject the child to hardship when with the other parent (e.g. many divorcing parents fail to realize that maintaining two households will result in more child related expenses than one).
I will assume that you are asking from the perspective of a party to the divorce and not from the perspective of a mediator, although the phrasing is not entirely clear. Some basics:
- Have a good command of the facts about your finances, your ex's finances, and the children's schedules and needs (assuming that there are children). For example, it would be good to have school calendars as far forward as they are available, to know the children's medical providers, and to have a firm command of their extracurricular activities, their friends and the requirements of any childcare providers. Often child support worksheets will be mandatory for a settlement to be approved, so get those worksheets and fill in the facts you know already. Bring a calculator so you can consider new assumptions and evaluate financial proposals accurately.
If you think you have received inaccurate disclosures, be prepared to explain in detail what you think is inaccurate and why you think that this is the case.
If domestic violence has been an issue, there are restraining orders that are or have been in place, there are abuse or neglect allegations present (including emotional abuse of a spouse or children), or the co-parents have had trouble coordinating and reaching decisions without outside assistance, be prepared to explain these situations in factual detail so you can avoid summarizing the situation in a vague way.
Bring anything you might need to refresh your recollection about relevant facts with you to mediation.
If you haven't received full disclosure of your spouse's finances, insist on receiving that, ideally before going to mediation and absolutely before reaching a deal.
Spend time considering possible resolutions of property, maintenance and parenting matters in advance. Very early on in mediation each of you will be asked what you want and mediation shouldn't be the first time that you have thoughtfully considered the question.
Spend time thinking about what you need on a non-negotiable basis to survive - to be able to meet basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, health care, etc. for you and your children, and also about what your ex needs and how your ex can achieve it. Proposing ways to achieve objectives that your ex hasn't considered that are viable is a good way to get a resolution.
Ideally, attend a parenting class (mandatory in many jurisdictions before getting a divorce that involves children) before attending mediation. Keep in mind that children are not prizes or bargaining chips and that you need to consider their needs as well as your own. Your kids love both of you even though you can no longer manage to live with each other.
Do not utilize the children as sounding boards for mediation stances and do not try to use them as decision makers or conduits for communication between the co-parents.
Recognize that in most states, marital fault is irrelevant, and that starting a new relationship is natural and routine, even if it makes your skin crawl that your ex is starting a new relationship. Take an attitude of focusing on what the deal does for you rather than what the deal does for your ex. This is about you getting what you need, not about making your ex worse off.
Be prepared to walk away from mediation without a deal if necessary, because your ex won't accept a reasonable deal. Maybe half of mediations end without a settlement.
Recognize that it may be possible to reach partial resolution (e.g. splitting up tangible personal property; figuring out how holidays will be handled with the children; agreeing on schools that children will attend; figuring out who, if anyone, will continue to live in a marital residence; stipulating to the value of particular assets; stipulating regarding each party's income; stipulating regarding what is and isn't separate property where you can agree; agreements to disclose information), without resolving all issues. Partial resolutions reduce uncertainty and make it easier to prepare for and conduct a permanent orders hearing on the remaining issues.
Even if you can't afford to hire a lawyer to represent you in the entire case, pay for an hour or two of a lawyer's time to evaluate what kind of property division, maintenance award and parenting arrangements are within the range of the possible and likely if you go forward to a permanent orders hearing.
Be prepared to put the terms of anything that is agreed to at mediation in writing.
Mediators will usually tell you if they need forms signed, payments made, or a "mediation statement" in advance. Do everything required on time. A "mediation statement" is a summary of the key facts and your position on a fair resolution and could be a couple to a dozen pages depending upon the complexity of the case. Be clear in a mediation statement about what is O.K. to share with the other side and what is for the mediator's information only. When a mediator asks for a mediation statement the main reason for doing so is to save time that the mediator is charging you per hour for 50-50. A mediation statement can make getting the mediator up to speed on the facts more efficient and less likely to omit important facts and the mediator needs to learn the key facts to be effective.
Your mediator should meet with each party prior to the mediation and answer these questions for you.
A mediator can (should?) operate with no background briefing: after all they are not a decision maker. Their role is to facilitate the parties in working out their differences in their own way: a mediator does not offer solutions or act as an umpire. All they do is make sure that you follow the mediation process - if you get a result, great; if you don't then you will have to move on to a form of dispute resolution that has an umpire (like arbitration or litigation) who can compel the parties to a resolution.
The important take away: the mediator is not responsible for resolving your differences with your ex and how you will relate to one another in the future; you are.