Family mediation is a valuable process that offers families the opportunity to address complex issues and find constructive solutions in a collaborative setting. Whether it’s resolving conflicts arising from divorce, child custody, or other familial matters, mediation can provide a more amicable alternative to court battles.
However, to ensure a successful outcome, proper preparation is paramount. The mediation day itself is a pivotal moment where parties come together to engage in productive discussions, guided by a skilled mediator or family mediation lawyers.
Although one day of mediation may not seem like a lot of time to negotiate the issues at hand, being prepared in advance will help the process run smoothly and allow both parties to get the most out of the day.
When preparing for parenting mediation, you need to consider whether what you want is also in the best interest of your children, based on their needs, their age, and their independent views. Some things to consider include:
- What school does or will the children attend?
- Are both parents able to drop off and collect the children from school easily, or can they arrange suitable public transport?
- Do the children have extracurricular activities or regular appointments, and can both parents facilitate them?
In some cases, it may be more suitable for the other parent to attend to and facilitate the children’s day-to-day needs, such as those listed above. If this is the case, you may want to think about which days and/or times are best for you and the children to spend time together.
In addition, birthdays, school holidays, public holidays, religious or cultural occasions, and vacations need to be thought through. These are events and occasions that need to be taken into consideration, which you may never have had to think about before or had to plan so carefully. You will need to ask yourself:
- What is a suitable arrangement for the children during school holidays?
- How should each parent spend time with the children on the children’s birthdays?
- How will you share Christmas, Easter, or other important occasions? For example, would it be better to spend time with the children every second Christmas or for half of the day each year?
- What is an appropriate time frame for each parent to take the children on holiday?
- Are there conditions that you would like to discuss in relation to travel?
Once you’ve thought about the above factors and anything else that’s relevant to your situation, you can begin preparing a parenting arrangement to propose to the other parent on the day of the mediation.
The proposed parenting arrangements should clearly set out the details of changeover during the school terms and holiday periods.
When negotiating the financial aspects of the relationship, all assets, liabilities, superannuation accounts, and financial resources held by both parties should be known and the details shared between the parties. The financial matters that must be disclosed by each party are covered by Rule 6.06 of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021 and include but are not limited to all:
- Bank accounts,
- Credit card and loan accounts,
- Motor vehicles,
- Properties in Australia and overseas,
- Businesses in Australia and overseas, and
- Superannuation accounts.
Parties need to fulfill their duty of disclosure by exchanging documents that prove their financial circumstances, arranging valuations of properties and businesses, and preparing a balance sheet.
Valuations come into play when you are either unsure of the market value of an asset, such as a property or a business, or when you and the other party cannot agree on the value.
The valuer should be agreed between the parties. The valuer will tell the parties what information and documents they need in order to provide the parties with an accurate valuation.
With business valuations, the valuer will read through all the financial disclosure documents provided to them in detail and evaluate the business’s assets, liabilities, and any current and forecasted income and expenses to determine the current market value.
With property valuations, the valuer will usually inspect the property and then assess its current market value by reference to the condition of the property and recent comparable sales.
What is important to you? What do you value?
While the Family Court takes a very specific approach when assessing how the matrimonial pool of assets of the parties should be divided, this approach may not achieve the best outcome for the parties and their children. One of the main benefits of family mediation is that it devolves power to the parties to formulate an outcome that is acceptable to both of them or that addresses a specific need of a party.
For example, it may be important that you or the other party can maintain a particular asset, such as a family business or property, so that it can be passed down to the children. It may be important for you to live in a particular area so that you are close to your aging parents. Or it may be important to you that you have a decent amount of superannuation so that you have a low-tax income stream once you retire. You or the other party may be willing to take less than your strict entitlement, in return for structuring the settlement in a way that helps you achieve what you want out of life.
If it’s important to you that you retain a particular property and to do so will mean that you need to pay some cash to the other party to enable them to receive a fair split of the assets, you should speak to your financial institution or mortgage broker to see what your borrowing power is.
If you want to receive or pay some of your super, there are specific legal requirements to enable the paying super fund to make the rollover. So if you’re hoping to sign settlement documents on the day of the mediation, make sure you speak to a specialist family lawyer about this at least eight weeks prior to the mediation, to give you enough time to get your ducks in a row.