Chose the Wrong Spouse? Don’t Pick the Wrong Mediator

Irish Divorce
March 15, 2024
Starter Marriage Blues
March 27, 2024

Deciding Who Will Mediate the Divorce Negotiations

by Michael Heath

When a couple decides to divorce, voluntary mediation (a.k.a. courtless mediation) can be an attractive option in bringing a marriage to an end. This type of mediation is a negotiation process conducted prior to filing paperwork with the court, and is a dynamic, interactive approach where a neutral third party assists in resolving conflicts on the way to a divorce settlement. Arriving at solutions that satisfy both sides is at its very core.

Where to Begin

Once a couple decides to end their marriage through mediation, both need to decide on a neutral third party. Anyone can legally call themselves a mediator, so a husband and wife must be on the lookout for certain qualifications. A certification from a recognized association is extremely important since it shows proper training. Mediators are usually involved in one area of practice, so a divorce mediator is what they want. Divorce mediators are familiar with state laws while possessing an understanding of complex family matters. The mediator should express a commitment to follow the Model Standards of Practice for Family and Divorce Mediation. If a professional does not know what that is, then the husband and wife should move on.

The spouses must examine their circumstances to see whether a mediator with a specialized background should be considered. If the marriage involves a business or a complex investment structure a mediator with financial expertise would be valuable. The same goes for mediators specially trained in child-related issues. Although hiring a mediator with a specialized background can be advantageous, they are not always easy to come by nor are they necessary. Experts are often brought into mediation sessions to assist couples in working on specific issues.

Although everyone needs to start somewhere, a rule of thumb is to seek out a mediator with at least a dozen completed cases. If a couple finds they are secure using someone with less experience, they may be able to negotiate a more favorable payment package than what veteran mediators charge.

Matrimonial Attorneys Who Mediate

As mediation increases in popularity, many matrimonial attorneys have added it to their list of services. The advantages to using a lawyer mediator are their level of training in family law and their qualification to draw up the divorce agreement once sessions complete. Couples should do their homework before hiring a lawyer who does mediation. Are they trained in conducting mediation sessions? This is important since the collaborative, brainstorming, solutions-based approach of mediation contrasts greatly with the adversarial approach of litigation. Couples want only a mediator who is educated in mediation procedures so that they truly understand and believe in its unique process. Even when a lawyer proves they are certified it is important to know how many cases they have mediated. No couple ever wants someone who only does mediation here and there.

How to Find a Mediator

Finding a good mediator may be as simple as asking around or getting a recommendation. Bar and mediation association websites usually include professional directories. Couples should meet the person who may mediate their sessions. Many offer free consultations or an introductory meeting at a reduced rate. If a “free consultation” turns out to be nothing more than a conversation with an in-take specialist whose job it is to gather information, then steer away. Meeting the professional gives a sense a sense of how the sessions will proceed. It is also an opportunity to look for cues. Couples should be wary of a mediator who comes across as a bit too relaxed. Even amicable divorces can get heated during negotiations, and the mediator needs a strong enough personality to control the process. On the other hand, a mediator with an overly “tough” personality can be detrimental as well. This often happens when the mediator is an ex-judge who is accustomed to calling the shots. In such a situation, the spirit of collaborative negotiation is out the window. One of the biggest reasons a couple chooses mediation is because they determine their future. No one should seek the services of someone who does not respect that.

Understand the Role that the Mediator Plays

There are certain things the mediator will not be. They are not a friend, therapist, or marriage counselor. Even if the person practices law, they are not your attorney. A mediator is a neutral third party with an important job in guiding a couple through a life-changing event. That needs to be understood and resolute. Mediation is a collaborative effort so when a couple agrees with whom will mediate the negotiations, they have taken an important first step on the road to success.


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