If a divorce dispute goes to trial in Alberta, it is likely to end up costing considerable amounts of time and money, as well as stress.
In many cases, it is preferable to enter a mediation process where the two parties try to settle by finding common ground on disputed matters with the help of a professional mediator.
For mediation to succeed, both parties must go in with full knowledge of what the process entails. This means understanding what will happen, what the ground rules are, and what is expected of you.
The following is what you need to know about succeeding with mediation.
Table of Contents
- What happens during divorce mediation in Alberta?
- How should you approach the mediation?
- How can you prepare for a mediation session?
- What are the divorce mediation rules in Alberta?
- Is mediation suitable for every divorce?
- Summary: How to ensure the best chance of success with mediation?
What happens during divorce mediation in Alberta?
Divorce mediation is a process that intends to guide two separating spouses or adult interdependent partners in Alberta towards an agreement on the main differences between them.
These differences usually involve one or more of the following matters:
- Division of the marital estate (assets/debts)
- Spousal support
- Child custody, parenting or visitation rights
- Child support
The two partners appoint a qualified and independent mediator, who will use his or her skills and training to attempt to guide the opposing parties to an agreement.
This may involve several meetings, depending on the scope of the outstanding differences. No agreement or decisions are made without the say-so of both spouses, who remain in control of the decision-making process: an important difference between mediation and litigation or arbitration.
If the two spouses achieve a positive outcome, a draft document will be prepared by the mediator and signed by both parties to confirm the agreements reached.
How should you approach the mediation?
There is a good chance of success with divorce mediation if both individuals approach it in the right frame of mind.
This will be covered by the mediator early on in the process, usually during individual face-to-face meetings with both parties.
Each spouse will want different outcomes at the start of the process but must be prepared to negotiate on their interests so that the outcome is positive for both parties. This is a major difference to litigation, which results in a “winner” and a “loser”.
Even if the two parties are far apart in their expectations at the beginning of the mediation, a successful result can still be achieved if certain approaches are respected – notably:
- Spending as much time as required: be prepared for your mediation to take many hours over several sessions.
- Keeping an open mind during negotiations: try to discuss difficult topics with your partner in a spirit of openness, compromise and fairness.
- Remaining respectful of each other: divorce is emotional, but you will be more likely to achieve a positive result if you remain respectful of each other. “Blame games” are counter-productive.
- Keeping matters confidential: all information disclosed in mediation must be treated as confidential – unlike in a public court case.
How can you prepare for a mediation session?
The first thing that you and your partner usually need to decide is who will pay for the mediation. Costs may be split between you but there is no right and wrong.
The first session is important as it will set the tone for the remainder of the mediation sessions. Choose a day with no other commitments so that you direct all of your energies into making the mediation work.
Once you and your spouse have decided on a start date for mediation, a little preparation will give the process the best chance of success. This includes locating the relevant documents from the following list to bring to the first session:
- Relevant legal agreements between you (prenuptial/postnuptial, cohabitation agreements, etc.)
- Proof of earnings
- Proof of ownership for any assets you hold
- Bank statements
- Investment details
- Property valuations
- Pension valuations
- Loan agreements
- Details of debts
- Business ownership documents
- Documents concerning your children
Make sure that you understand the contents and relevance of each document and how it applies to you and your spouse, as you may need to refer to it during the mediation sessions.
What are the divorce mediation rules in Alberta?
Mediation sessions are highly structured, and your mediator will insist on both parties following certain ground rules in the interests of reaching a positive result.
These will be outlined before the first mediation session starts and usually include the following:
- Only one person to speak at a time
- Any information provided can be verified
- If children are involved, their best interests come first under Alberta family law
- The focus must be on solutions, not the actions of the other party
- Conduct talks in a spirit of compromise
- Don’t attempt to rush the mediation process
- Final decision-making is your responsibility – not the mediator’s
- The terms of any signed agreement are legally binding
A mediator is generally unable to provide legal advice about your situation. Their job is to guide you towards a resolution of the outstanding issues, not to advise you on the best course of action legally. A mediator may, however, be able to relate the legal consequences of any decisions you are considering.
Many divorcing spouses also retain a divorce lawyer, who may attend the mediation sessions and represent you even if the matter does not end up in court.
Even if joint mediation sessions are not possible (where both parties in the divorce attend), mediation may sometimes be conducted by a series of separate meetings between the mediator and the respective attorneys.
Is mediation suitable for every divorce?
Mediation has the potential to keep divorce out of the courtroom, which is usually a positive outcome for all parties.
It has a great track record for couples prepared to compromise and approach it in the right spirit while following the ground rules according to the information outlined above.
In some cases, however, it is not recommended as it would be a waste of time, money and effort. It requires a commitment to the process from both parties. If that is not possible, there is little point in entering mediation.
Mediation is also inappropriate if there is a history of domestic violence, intimidation or child abuse in the relationship.
Summary: how to ensure the best chance of success with mediation?
You decided to mediate your divorce settlement. Now what?
How can you give the process the best chance of success?
Here is a quick checklist to help increase the chances of a positive outcome from your mediation sessions.
- Hire an experienced and independent divorce mediator (often an attorney) who is familiar with the divorce regulations in Alberta
- Prepare for your first session by gathering all the documentation you will need
- Enter the mediation room with the right attitude and approach
- Follow the professional guidance from the mediator, as he or she will have been in this situation many times
- Keep discussions structured and follow the rules set out by your mediator
If you would like to explore the option of divorce mediation in Alberta, speak to a divorce lawyer at Jennings Family Law in Calgary for a free case evaluation.