Perhaps you've come to the realization that divorce mediation is the way to go for you and your spouse, but how do you choose a divorce mediator? After all, not all divorce mediators are created equal.
Top 10 Tips for Choosing a Divorce Mediator:
1.You want a divorce mediator who is an educator. By initially educating you and your spouse on the law, a good divorce mediator would be focused on empowering you to make your own informed decisions. You would be informed on how the law applies to your particular facts and circumstances. Then, you would learn what would be the most likely result if you each hired your own divorce lawyer and went to court.
2.A good divorce mediator keeps the playing field level. You want a neutral partner (not just a third-party) who ensures that all rights and interests of both spouses are being protected. In a sense, having a good divorce mediator is like having a strong "advocate" in each of your corners who is looking out for each of your best interests, as well as the entire family.
A marital settlement agreement that is legally binding, and not just a memorandum of understanding is also essential, in addition to having a divorce mediator who encourages you to have your agreement reviewed by a private divorce attorney. These steps allow you to feel like you have an additional layer of protection prior to signing your agreement.
3. Good divorce mediators use a clear and practical approach to "fairness." First, a good divorce mediator will validate your opinions regarding what you each believe is fair. They would engage you both in meaningful discussion and point out any matters that a court would view as unfair. They will then take a wholly practical view of your particular situation, what the realities are and what is truly at stake, and then a good divorce mediator helps you both to craft creative solutions you each envision for yourselves and your family post-divorce. It may be difficult to see it this way, but what is most fair may not actually be totally ideal for either one of you. But it will undoubtedly be a result that feels comfortable to you both and is something you can each live with.
4. A good divorce mediation firm makes it easy and affordable for you. The cost of divorce is overwhelming enough, without having to worry about the cost of divorce mediation. Look for a divorce mediator who offers a flat fee for all the services they provide, as well as a thorough divorce consultation that includes a complete marital estate assessment. That way, you and your spouse know up front what is involved. Private divorce mediators generally charge upwards of $250-$350/hr, for as long as it takes to finish the mediation - so the longer it takes you to agree, the more it will cost you.
Also, make sure your divorce mediator assists with the administrative filing of the divorce decree, if you and your spouse are filing an uncontested divorce in PA.
5. The best divorce mediator is an expert who is dedicated exclusively to the practice of divorce mediation. Often times, you will find divorce mediators who are primarily private divorce litigation attorneys who practice divorce mediation as a secondary specialty.
Although they can also be effective, a divorce litigation attorney is trained with a mindset that may not always be ideal for mediation. They are trained to do battle for their client, to fight and to "win" at all costs- even if that means being locked in a bitter court battle for 2-4 years of your life, spending on average $30,000-$40,000 or more in legal fees, and subjecting your children to the potential emotional anguish which invariably results from such a process.
A divorce mediator, on the other hand, is trained to help you and your spouse find common ground, while encouraging you both to remain amicable, while keeping in mind the bigger picture of your divorce and what's truly most important to each of you. These are two completely different mindsets, and it can often times be difficult for a divorce litigator to flip a switch, remove their litigation hat and step into the role of divorce mediator.
6. A good divorce mediation service understands complex financial matters and parenting issues This being said, the best divorce mediators usually have extensive experience with handling more sophistocated marital estates with complex financial issues. For example, they will be able to carefully analyze the complexities of investment-based assets, employee stock incentive awards, two-household budget projections and home and business valuations, while identifying any potential tax issues and pitfalls that may result from your divorce settlement.
Regarding parenting and custody issues, look for a divorce mediation service that uses a parenting mediator with a therapy background. This type of mediator, often times, is much better suited than an attorney to understand complex family dynamics and how they impact children. As such, they are often more likely to suggest parenting and custody solutions that are most healthy for the family unit.
7. A good divorce mediator is a top-notch project manager. Keeping you and your spouse focused and on track for a healthy resolution of your matter should be the #1 goal of divorce mediators. You should expect your divorce mediator to utilize technology like electronic calendars, mobile e-mail and secure online file and document sharing, uploading, and collaboration tools for maximum efficiency and optimal communication.
8. A good divorce mediator is a natural trouble-shooter. What is a good project manager without also being an effective problem solver? For example, when emotions prevent positive forward progress, a savvy divorce mediator will encourage one or both clients to work with a therapist or divorce coach to move past sticking points.
9. A good divorce mediator must be compassionate. A divorce mediator is not merely a referee who oversees the blind whacking up of all of the marital assets and then everybody goes home.
Rather, the best divorce mediators are very much invested in you. Look for the intangibles. A genuine caring and concern for both you and your family's longer-term financial and emotional wellness should be obvious on a first impression. Also, someone free of racial or gender bias, and a lover of humanity, in general.
Just trust your gut here. It's imperative that both of you have some type of chemistry or rapport with the divorce mediator upon that first meeting or phone call.
10. A good divorce mediator does everything to ensure you each emerge healthy and whole. That's why a good mediator would not take your case unless (s)he believes that you and your spouse will be successful. In assessing this, for example, a good divorce mediator should ask whether you both agree that your marriage is over and you are each ready to move on. If either or both of you are not yet at this point, they should refer you to a divorce coach or therapist to help you decide what each of you really want.
Just as important, additional divorce support should be available, such as healthy parenting plans and guidance on how to speak to your children about divorce, a financial planner for higher net worth cases, or even a referral to a realtor who will help you get the best price if you must sell your house, estate planning support for how to update and protect your estate after divorce and provide for your loved ones in the event of your death, and a coach to help you create your new life after divorce.
Getting ready for divorce mediation?
Download our Free Divorce Mediation Checklist
Cris Pastore is President and Managing Attorney-Mediator of Main Line Family Law Center, LLC, an innovative divorce mediation firm with offices throughout the Philadelphia Main Line and Center City, Philadelphia.