Most divorces in Texas are settled out of court. Many of the cases that settle are resolved in mediation. Your divorce cannot be finalized until you and your divorcing spouse negotiate terms that are acceptable to both of you, and mediation can help you get there.
If you are heading toward mediation, it is important to be well prepared, and one of the most important first steps you can take is to work closely with a dedicated Killeen divorce attorney.
The Terms that Apply in Your Divorce
Divorce almost guarantees emotional turmoil, but, behind all the drama, divorce is simply the legal process of dismantling your marriage contract. As such, you and your divorcing spouse will need to resolve each of the following divorce terms that apply in your situation:
Your child custody arrangements, including legal custody and parenting time
Alimony or spousal maintenance
It can sometimes help to start by trying to negotiate these terms between yourselves with the help of your respective divorce attorneys. Any of the terms you can determine between yourselves before mediation leaves fewer concerns to address at mediation.
After you have exhausted your ability to negotiate with one another, mediation can be an excellent means of keeping your case out of court and maintaining decision-making authority between the two of you.
A Note on Mediation
Mediation can be a very useful tool that helps many couples settle their divorces outside of court. There are instances, however, when mediation ends up being just another stop before trial, which can drag the matter out and increase the price in the process.
If your divorcing spouse is more interested in making your case difficult than in resolving the terms reasonably, mediation may be just another opportunity to stonewall you.
If you have doubts about how productive mediation will be, your divorce attorney will help you carefully consider the matter and make the right decisions for you – given the unique circumstances you face.
Mediation Does Not Mean that You Do Not Need Legal Counsel
If you are going to mediation, you may think that you can bypass having a divorce attorney of your own, but this is a shortsighted approach. The divorce terms that you resolve at mediation will directly affect your legal rights – financial, parental, or both – and the surest means of protecting these rights is with professional legal guidance in your corner.
The professional mediator who guides your mediation is a neutral third party who cannot dispense legal advice and will not have an in-depth understanding of your unique circumstances.
Instead, the mediator will help you explore potential resolutions to the divorce matters that are tripping you and your spouse up – in general terms but without the specific knowledge and legal know-how that a trusted divorce attorney provides. The outcome of your divorce is too consequential to leave to chance.
Your divorce attorney is not only there to help you prepare for mediation, which is critical, but also to help you strategize a path forward and to make the right decisions for you throughout the divorce process – with a clearer understanding of your terms and their implications for your future. Contact a skilled divorce lawyer today for personalized guidance throughout your case.
Finding the Right Divorce Mediator for You
You will want to put careful consideration into choosing your mediator, just like you did when choosing a divorce attorney. When you have a divorce lawyer with extensive experience successfully guiding cases like yours through mediation, you will have access to an invaluable resource. You can count on him or her to help you find the right divorce mediator.
Consider these important factors to look for when choosing a divorce mediator:
A mediator who specializes and has extensive experience in divorce cases
A mediator with a mediation style that is well suited to you and your case
The cost of mediation and whether you will be charged a flat fee or by the hour
How the mediation process will proceed, including the rules of conduct
How soon mediation can be scheduled, and how long the process is expected to last
Determining Your Martial Assets
Often, the matter of property division is addressed at mediation, and resolving this divorce term in a manner that protects your financial rights requires that you know what you have got in the first place. In other words, there is considerable prep work involved.
In Texas, those assets that you acquire while you are married – regardless of who makes the purchase – are considered marital, and as a result, they must be divided between you fairly upon divorce. The only exceptions are gifts and inheritances that either spouse receives in their name alone over the course of the marriage.
Conversely, any assets that either of you brought into the marriage with you are considered separate property – but only if you keep them separate during your marriage, which means keeping them financially disentangled from your marital assets.
An important distinction to make, however, is that any increase in a separate asset’s value is considered marital, and that additional amount will need to be included in the division or marital property.
Having a clear understanding of your marital assets is critical, and it is important to understand that there are several factors that tend to make this more difficult:
Another complication is if your spouse has far more involvement in your household finances than you do, which makes it much easier to obscure overall values or even hide or dissipate assets.
The more complex your marital financials, the more likely you are to need forensic accounting on your side. Your knowledgeable divorce attorney will help you identify your full range of marital assets, obtain reliable valuations, and find a forensic accountant if needed.
Understanding Your Fair Division of Assets
In order to obtain a fair division of marital assets that protects your financial rights, it is important to have a working understanding of the court’s focus, which includes factors like the following:
The amount of separate assets each spouse has
Each spouse’s earning potential, level of education, and employment opportunities
Each spouse’s age and overall health
Each spouse’s financial obligations
Whether either spouse will require future financial support
Any disparity in earnings between spouses
The nature of the marital property (For example, while a bank account is generally relatively easy to divide, a business is not.)
Whether fault played a role in the dissolution of the marriage and the benefits the other spouse would have enjoyed if the marriage had not ended (Even in no-fault divorces, the court has the discretion to factor in wrongdoing.)
Whether one spouse will be taking on the role of primary custodial parent
Any misuse, dissipation, or spending down of marital assets by either spouse
The tax implications of the proposed property division
Any other factors the court – in its discretion – considers relevant
Because marital property is not necessarily divided equally in Texas divorces, it is important to take an overarching view that carefully considers your unique circumstances.
Negotiate between Yourselves to the Degree Possible
Once you have scheduled your divorce mediation, do not let negotiations with your spouse come to a screeching halt. The more concerns you can resolve between yourselves, the fewer you will need to address in mediation, which translates to less time, less cost, and an increased focus on those unresolved terms that matter most.
Whatever you and your divorcing spouse can resolve between yourselves – with legal guidance from your respective divorce attorneys to ensure your rights are well protected – is a good thing. Save your mediation energy for those terms that you simply cannot resolve on your own.
Put Your Children’s Needs First
In the turmoil of divorce, it is very easy to lose sight of what matters most, and you may not realize how hard the process is on your children. Committing to mediation is not only good for you but is also something you can do for your children. The less drama and contention, the better off your children are.
Additionally, it is important to remember that your children have absolutely no control over the changes that your divorce will bring and that they may be internalizing the stress you and your spouse are experiencing.
As a parent, it is obviously important to prioritize your children’s needs and well-being, and allowing this to guide you through mediation can help make the entire process that much easier and can help make the outcome that much more beneficial. Keep the following considerations in mind during the divorce process:
Your children love both of you and should not have to choose between you on any score.
Your children are best served when they continue to spend a significant amount of time with both of you, which generally makes seriously limiting your ex’s parenting time less than ideal.
Maintaining the status quo to the degree possible, such as keeping your children in the same school and – potentially – in their family home, tends to be helpful.
Allowing your children’s best interests to guide you as you move through the mediation process helps to ensure that you are making the right choices for all of you.
You and your ex are divorcing, and you likely are not on the best terms. This, however, does not alter the fact that you should be on your best behavior during the mediation process.
By taking the high road and treating your soon-to-be ex respectfully, keeping your cool, and focusing on the issues at hand, you set the bar high, and your divorcing spouse may follow suit. Adopting a neutral, business-like attitude can also help keep things moving forward and keep costs down.
Setting the right tone can pay off in the long run, but this, of course, does not mean that you should lose sight of your rights or bend over backward to accommodate your spouse. Consult with your divorce lawyer for help striking the right balance during divorce negotiations.
Remain Open Minded
As you move toward mediation, it is important to maintain an open mind.
By establishing priorities regarding what is best for you and your children, you increase your leverage, and you may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. When you know where you are willing to compromise and which matters you need to hold firm on, you will be better prepared to make the most of mediation.
Many parents go into mediation with the goal of minimizing their divorcing spouse’s parenting time, but this is unlikely to support your children’s best interests and generally is not a great approach.
If your goal, instead, is to maintain the status quo by remaining with your children in the family home as the primary custodial parent, it helps to structure your overarching goals and can help you devise a solid mediation strategy.
Look to the Future
Divorce is a major transition in your life, and mediation often signals that the process is near the end, which can leave you looking backward – reminiscing about the great times, seething about the bad times, or engaging in a confusing mixture of both.
When you are heading into mediation, it is important to focus on the bright future ahead of you. While the divorce process may feel like it is dragging you down, you will get through it, and you can forge the next chapter in your life from there. Divorce is not so much an end as it is a springboard into your future, and keeping your focus forward helps.