Minnesota orders all couples without a history of spousal abuse to use some type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) before taking their case to court. One of the most common and generally successful forms of ADR is mediation. In this process, a neutral third party, known as the mediator, helps the couple work out their differences, usually resulting in a substantial reduction in costs over a traditional litigated divorce. The right divorce mediator can make all the difference.

The following nine principles can help you succeed at mediating the divorce.

1.    Both parties need to participate actively to make the mediation work. If your ex refuses to engage with the process, or if you don’t believe that you can trust him or her to make a good faith effort, then ADR probably won’t be successful.

2.    Aim for clarity and disclosure. The goal is to identify your and your spouse’s needs based on all the facts of your situation. When both parties are open and straightforward, and when everyone works to invent options, more solutions will be found.

3.    Remember that mediation works! Statistically, the mediation process is more likely to generate compliance with the settlement terms. This is good news, especially if you have children and/or a complex financial situation.

4.    Remember that mediation does not in and of itself create a legally binding settlement. A judge still must approve the arrangement.

5.    Neither party absolutely needs a personal attorney to handle this process. A neutral lawyer can complete your paperwork and file relevant court documents. Some parties even opt to use pro se forms and submit all paperwork themselves. However, even if your divorce appears simple and amicable, you can benefit from speaking with an experienced Minnesota family lawyer about your case.

6.    Be willing to compromise. If you can’t agree about some element, make a counter-offer. Seek to understand your ex’s needs – what’s really important to him or her – and develop possible solutions that you think would appeal to both of you.

7.    Remember: a mediator cannot be called as a witness about the mediation proceedings. All oral and written communications are protected from discovery – Minnesota law considers the process confidential.

8.    Be respectful. Aim to work out differences without fighting or engaging in name-calling or tangential dredging up of the past. You’re looking to find fair solutions going forward to create a better future.

9.    Address potential future disagreements. Plan ahead regarding possible debates over matters such as vacations, moving, holiday scheduling, and paying for extra-curricular activities. Deal with these issues now, so that you won’t have to address them on the fly later.