One of the stumbling blocks for many people getting divorced is a lack of knowledge about the process and, in some cases, making unwise decisions about the professionals to hire to assist them. That’s not a knock on anybody. If you have never been divorced, this is all new territory. If you plan to use divorce mediation to come to an agreement, being knowledgeable about hiring the right divorce mediator is even more critical.
For starters, divorce mediators are not licensed, and you do not necessarily have to be an attorney to become a divorce mediator. It’s a service you can offer as part of your law practice. It’s also a service that some mental health and other professionals offer as well. If your mediator is not an attorney, he or she will write a memorandum of understanding after the mediation, but you will need to hire an attorney to prepare all of the necessary court documents at the end of the mediation. So, you should research and scrutinize the person you are considering.
The Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation provides a great resource to find mediators in your area. In addition to providing a way to search for mediators by town, the site includes profiles of mediators and highlights their experience. Another benefit of The Council is that the organization provides a certification process for mediators who have more than 100 hours of mediation experience. In order to be certified, eligible mediators have to provide evidence of training in specific divorce related topics and to submit to a review of multiple examples of divorce agreements they have prepared after successful mediations. Once certified, these mediators are required to continue with regular trainings to stay current.
When doing your research, you want to interview at least two to three mediators prior to making any decisions. Part of that interview should include questions on the mediator’s approach and fees. You also want to ask about their training and certifications and how long they have been a mediator.
Another key question is the percentage mediation makes of their practice. You will want to work with somebody who does mediation as a good percentage of their practice. Practice makes perfect, right? It stands to reason that a mediator who does more mediation will be more efficient and skilled.
You should also consider the strengths of the mediator. While it’s true you do not necessarily have to be an attorney to do divorce mediation, knowledge of the law and, more importantly, current law greatly benefits the negotiation.
Selecting a mediator who possesses a financial acumen is also key. A vast majority of the issues that need resolution in a mediation are finance-related. Not every attorney who practices mediation has the same knowledge and skill level when it comes to finances. If your divorce involves more than the standard real estate and retirement assets, you will want to factor that into your selection process.
Costs and fees certainly play a role. Many divorcing couples choose mediation for that reason. Yet fees and costs associated with mediation can vary. You can factor in cost in your decision-making. As can often be the case, if you select solely based on price and not the skill of the mediator it can end up costing you more in the long run.
Quite naturally, if you know somebody who has used a mediator and has positive things to say, you might want to include that professional in your pool of candidates. You should still go through the same process of interviewing and checking references on that mediator.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, you want to feel comfortable with your mediator. You want to feel like you have a rapport, that the mediator is listening and responsive to your concerns. This can often be difficult to determine in a short half-hour meeting with prospective mediators. That’s why it’s so important to come in with questions and have an open and frank discussion.
At the end of the day, the choice of a mediator is one you make on your own. It will include many variables: costs, references, style, etc. In the end, it might come down to your instincts or gut feeling. You can make your gut feel a whole lot better by doing the legwork prior to your decision.