“How should we select or choose a family or divorce mediator to handle our divorce?”
As with many other issues in life, there is no “one size fits all” approach to choosing a divorce mediator.
Among important questions to consider, you may wish to ask the following, in selecting a professional mediator to mediate your divorce or family law case.
1. Does the mediator have a law degree and family law practice experience, and is the mediator informed of divorce and parenting research?
Because divorce is necessarily a creation of law, a lawyer’s training and real-world practice experience (understanding how courts work and how Orders or Agreements are commonly or best structured) are often of great benefit to successful divorce mediation. Mediation that includes a consideration of likely court outcomes with divorcing parties (sometimes desired or desirable, sometimes not) necessarily requires experience with how judges generally view certain legal or nonlegal issues. Nonattorney mediators may lack credibility and persuasiveness in this task — especially in lawyer-attended divorce or family law mediation.
At the same time, most family lawyers (and many attorney-mediators) do not stay current with the latest clinical research regarding child development and the healthy structuring of (by way of example) overnights in parenting plans with young children. Many lawyers cite chapter and verse of books and resources premised on studies no longer considered authoritative. As detailed below, finding a mediator with a background of working with families with these issues and a commitment to continuing education regarding divorce and parenting studies is often very important.
2. Does the mediator have substantive knowledge of the subject matter of your conflict or the issues you need help with?
Strong conflict resolution and remarkable interpersonal skills may successfully move many, if not most, family disputes forward. And, it is not the case that a mediator must have high substantive expertise in the area of the dispute, but … it certainly is desirable.
So, the selection of the right mediator for a given divorcing couple should always begin with an assessment of the principal issues in dispute in your case:
Sophisticated parenting issues (e.g., crafting a developmentally healthy timesharing structure given clients’ unique/unusual circumstances, special child problems or parenting strengths and deficits) will usually benefit from selecting a mediator with a rich mental health background. Most parents will choose mediated resolutions consistent with artfully shared insights into what works best for families and children with their unique constellation of concerns. The mental health mediator’s special expertise with parenting issues may be invaluable.
More complex financial issues (e.g., spousal maintenance planning, and business division, retirement valuation, stock options assessment and other such matters) enormously benefit from selecting a mediator who has a substantial familiarity and comfort mediating issues with intricate financial and tax planning implications. The attorney-mediator’s substantive knowledge of settlement options may be invaluable.
3. Does the mediator have substantial experience?
Ultimately, experience is key. An experienced family mediator with a mental health background who possesses substantive legal, tax and financial expertise; consults frequently with lawyer peers; and knows how to frame and discuss spousal support issues with a divorcing couple may be a much better choice than a novice attorney-mediator.
Similarly, an experienced attorney-mediator who consults with a reliable network of parenting consultants; becomes familiar with the literature and research regarding childhood development and divorce; and crafts a practiced structure to help parents consider such issues — may be a much better choice than a novice mental health background mediator.
4. Does the mediator wear other professional hats, or limit their work to dispute resolution of divorce and family law matters?
Consider also the nature of a mediator’s commitment to professional dispute resolution. Attorney-mediators who exclusively limit their work to mediation often undergo an important transformation in their conflict resolution style and values. The full-time practice of mediation brings neutrality and a seasoned approach difficult for lawyers still also acting in the “part-time” role of advocating or litigating for other clients.
Our Mediators At Divorce Resolutions, Colorado Center for Divorce Mediation
Our team includes highly experienced full-time attorney-mediators, exclusively limiting our work to divorce and family law matters (including parenting plan issues). We have done this for many, many years.
If you haven’t already, be sure also to review some of the other commonly asked questions (and our answers) regarding Colorado divorce, divorce mediation and Colorado family law — at our “Divorce & Mediation Frequently Asked Questions.”
Next, consider some commonly held erroneous beliefs about divorce, divorce mediation and Colorado law. We call them “Divorce & Mediation Myths,” and we’ll do our best to “debunk” them!