How pro se litigants can best prepare for family law mediations

Posted Saturday, April 20th, 2019 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Mediation/Alternative Dispute Resolution, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, South Carolina Specific

Most pro se family court litigants are pro se either because they cannot afford attorneys or do not want the contentious litigation that they assume is the natural result of retaining separate attorneys. Often these litigants will use a mediator to help them resolve their disputes. The following suggestions can help such litigants make the best use of the mediator and maximize their chances of resolving their dispute in mediation.

In any family law matter that involves financial issues, the court will require financial disclosure to approve the agreement. In South Carolina, the form our Supreme Court has provided for such disclosure is called a financial declaration. If I am conducting a mediation that involves financial issues, I will not proceed until the parties have filled out, executed (signed and had notarized), and exchanged this document. If child support is at issue, the information regarding gross income, the children’s health insurance and day care expenses, and prior support obligations will be vital. If alimony is at issue, information about the parties’ assets, income, and expenses will be important. One cannot properly consider equitable distribution of marital assets and debts if these assets and debts are not listed on the financial declaration.

Download (DOCX, 37KB)

In cases in which equitable distribution is at issue, it is useful for the parties to come up with an equitable distribution spreadsheet (this link provides a sample spreadsheet). This spreadsheet should list all the assets and debts the parties believe are subject to equitable distribution in the first column and the valuation in the second column. In the third column whatever assets the first spouse will be keeping should be given a value equal to the value in the second column (the formula is +bx where x is the row number) and whatever assets the other spouse will be keeping should be given a value of $0.00. The fourth column is the value of the assets the other spouse will be keeping and the formula is the value of the second column minus the value of the third column (+bx-cx). Finally one should total the values for columns two through four.

Download (XLSX, 12KB)

In mediation whether these items should be considered marital, the value for these items, and who will keep which items can all be discussed. However having this spreadsheet prepared prior to mediation will greatly expedite the process.

Finally, prior to mediation, the parties should discuss relevant issues, such as custody, support, and property division, determine where they have agreement, and determine what their disputes are on the issues where they don’t agree. I have outlines of typical issues in marital dissolution cases and a separate outline for potential child custody restraints (many of which I do not encourage in my own practice). Folks should review these outlines and discuss issue relevant to their dispute prior to the mediation.

Download (DOCX, 15KB)

Download (DOCX, 14KB)

Doing the tasks suggested above will make any mediation proceed more efficiently and effectively. I do these tasks in my own cases prior to mediation. In pro se mediations the consequences of not reaching settlement are much greater–making it even more vital that they do these tasks prior to mediation.

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