Any party involved in a Dissolution of Marriage case knows the heartache, frustration and expense involved in dividing assets, establishing spousal support where needed and dealing with the scores of issues involved in establishing a workable and beneficial parenting plan for minor children.
Under Florida law, each party to a divorce is required to provide the opposing party with certain financial information quite early in the litigation process. Items such as recent paycheck stubs, tax returns, financial affidavits, loan applications, deeds to property, checking account statements and brokerage account statements are many times required to be exchanged between the parties. The clear purpose behind such disclosures is to provide the opposing party (and his or her attorney) with sufficient information to begin to make preliminary and informed decisions about the amount of resources available in order to properly divide the assets and income of the family once the final divorce decree is entered.
It is not enough, however, merely to exchange this information. The information provided by the opposing party must be analyzed carefully: is it a full disclosure of all assets and sources of income? Is the opposing party trying to hide income? Are there assets that are not being disclosed? If so, then further investigation is required. This may include depositions of parties or gathering of financial information directly from third parties such as employers or stock brokers. Such information can be gathered from these third parties through the use of subpoenas which compel production of pertinent information.
Yet even when all pertinent information is gathered and analyzed, it is many times not enough to merely appear at the mediation with all this information in hand. A prudent party in a divorce proceeding will want to be able to present this information to the mediator (and the opposing party) in a coherent and understandable format so as to demonstrate the exact nature of assets and income available in each case.
You must remember that most mediators will appear at the mediation with little or no first hand knowledge of the facts of the case. It is the attorney’s job in a divorce to have immediately available for the mediator spreadsheets of income and assets so that the mediator has the necessary ammunition to go to the opposing party properly armed and able to dispel the misinformation that the other side will sometimes try and present to the mediator.
Gathering up the important financial material is critical to a successful mediation. Just as critical, however, is taking the time before mediation to synthesize the financial information in easy to follow spreadsheets so that the time spent in mediation is not wasted and so that the mediation process results in the best settlement possible. Too many mediations appear to waste time as opposing counsel spends valuable time studying the file while at mediation as opposed to already being fully familiar with each and every facet of the file the moment mediation begins.
Properly done, somewhere between 70%-80% of mediations will result in a settlement of the case-either at mediation itself or within a reasonable time thereafter. You must remember, however, that litigation of any case-be it a divorce or a business dispute-is a form of battle. As in any battle, the more clearly your opponent understands that you are fully prepared to go to war, the more likely it is that the war will not be fought and a favorable settlement will result.