First, a definition: Divorce mediation is a private, confidential process in which a trained, impartial professional helps you and your spouse negotiate constructively about the matters you need to resolve: parental decision-making, your parenting schedule, alimony, child support, division of assets and debts, etc. The mediator guides the process. The parties make the decisions. Instead of assuming that you and your spouse must treat each other as enemies in competition for scarce resources, mediation assumes that you are capable adults and can develop a plan that is OK with both of you.
How can you find a good mediator? You may start by asking for recommendations from relatives, friends, therapists, and/or people in your faith community. Visit some mediators’ websites to get a feel for how they think and how they work. Maybe check their profiles on LinkedIn. Then call the ones who look good and ask questions such as these:
1. What sort of training and credentials do you have?
A mediator must complete an excellent training and mentorship program to earn state certification in Virginia. State certification is evidence that a mediator has had training in mediation skills and family law, has worked with mentors, and has enough experience to be trusted.
Some mediators were first trained as lawyers, some were counselors, and some came from a wide variety of other backgrounds and then learned to mediate well. Be open to the possibilities.
Some lawyers successfully set aside their skills as advocates for one party and do a good job facilitating conversations between two people. Other lawyers say that they know how to mediate but are really conducting adversarial settlement conferences.
2. How much experience do you have mediating divorces?
3. Can you provide references?
Most divorce clients do not want to talk about the experience publicly, but some testimonials may be available online.
4. What fees are involved?
5. How long will the process take?
6. Do I need an attorney?
Mediators can provide large and useful amounts of information, but they are not allowed to give legal advice.
7. If I have a lawyer, should I bring him/her to mediation meetings?
If you bring your lawyer, you have to pay two professionals instead of one for each hour of work. Still, each party has the right to bring his or her attorney if so desired. If present, the lawyers should act as advisors, not as negotiators. You and your spouse should be the lead negotiators.
8. Can you write up the settlement agreement we create?
In Virginia, any competent mediator can write a Marital Settlement Agreement provided that s/he is acting as a scrivener for both parties, not as a lawyer for either party.
9. How much experience do you have with the kinds of problems our family has — a child with special needs, a history of domestic violence, intermittent substance abuse problems, a family-owned business, a tendency toward loud, intense arguments, etc.
If you have a very good mediator, both you and your spouse will feel that the mediator understands what you want and why you want it. Both of you should feel that you are being treated fairly.
Mediation has many benefits, but that is a topic for a different article.
For more information, visit ColinFamilyMediationGroup.com.