"I don't even know where to begin....!"
For many people, the very idea of embarking on mediating their issues with the other parent, for example, can be quite overwhelming. They simply do not know where to start because, in a very immediate way, they are facing a situation of conflict and disagreement. The heightened level of emotion and often conflict impacts on their ability to clarify what is really at issue.
Preparation is really key to making mediation as productive as possible. This statement extends to all those participating and this includes the mediator as well. The better the mediator is able to grasp and analyse not only the issues in dispute but also both parties’ approaches to the issues, the more effectively the mediator will be able to create not only an agenda for the overall mediation but also for each session.
Assuming parents have already decided mediation is their chosen modality for the potential resolution of their dispute (and that mediation is, actually, a suitable modality), let’s take Mother as a practical example. It would be useful for Mother to begin by creating a list of issues which are in dispute. She might consider listing both her issues as well as those of the other parent, and then ordering the two lists in terms of importance (to the extent that Mother can discern the issue priorities of the other parent). For each one of the Mother’s issues, she might then consider making some notes on why the issue is important to her and how she would go about explaining why she is approaching it the way she is. She might do the same for the other parent’s positions, as far as she understands them. All supportive material (documents, invoices, emails, texts) should be gathered and organized. This preparation process will help Mother identify, clarify and prioritize the issues for herself. More than that, the mediator will ask each of the parties, in advance of the first session, to submit a statement of their issues - the already prepared list, with appropriate modifications, will be ready for submissions to the mediator for these purposes.
Mediation is a dynamic process because it involves the participation of human beings, who are also dynamic. Participants in mediation can never truly expect each session to unfold “according to script” but the mediator, who controls the mediation process, will moderate any veering off and ensure that the overall agenda is returned to, as soon as and in a way that is appropriate. Again, organization is key.