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

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What you should look for in a divorce mediator.

When a couple decides to divorce, mediation can be a very smart option for bringing a marriage to an end. Mediation is a dynamic, interactive process where a neutral third party assists in resolving conflicts on the way to a settlement. Alternative dispute resolution techniques are the foundation of the process which the mediator employs to structure the negotiations. Mediation is also used in many other areas to reach a settlement: worker’s compensation, landlord/tenant conflicts, and even school issues. This article is focused on divorce mediation.

Divorce Mediation

If the decision has been made to divorce through mediation, then the couple needs to decide who that mediator will be. Anyone can legally call him/herself a mediator, so a husband and wife will immediately want to look for certain qualifications. Couples want to make sure that they hire someone with a strong background in state divorce laws. Your mediator is NOT your lawyer and is not there to dispense legal advice. However, it is important that s/he be familiar with the laws and with an understanding of how courts would rule in certain situations.

Although everyone needs to start somewhere, it is preferred that a mediator have at least a dozen cases completed so that there is enough experience in guiding the process to its end. A certification from a recognized association is extremely important since it shows proper training. The mediator should indicate a commitment to follow the Model Standards of Practice for Family and Divorce Mediation. If the considered person does not know what that is, the spouses should move on.

It is better to hire a mediator who specializes in divorce mediation and not someone who does it here and there. A mediator who does this line of work all the time will likely do a better job than one who does not. S/he needs to be knowledgeable in complex family and financial topics while having access to professionals who can assist when a certain expertise is needed. 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 keep things in control. Mediators are trained to recognize imbalances of power and it is their job to keep the discussions on a level playing field. On the other hand, an overly “tough” personality can have a negative effect on negotiations. This often happens when the mediator is an ex-judge who is used to calling all the shots. In such a situation, the spirit of negotiation is out the window and control is surrendered to the mediator. Remember that one of the biggest reasons a couple chooses mediation is so that they determine their future. Do not seek the services of someone who does not respect that.

There are certain things your mediator will not be. S/he is not your friend, lawyer, therapist or marriage counselor. A mediator has an important job in guiding a couple through a life-changing event. That is where the focus should be and not someplace else. When everyone knows their roles, each of the three parties should expect satisfactory results.

Learn more about divorce mediation in The Courtless Divorce book.

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