How to Choose a Divorce Mediator
Divorce mediation is almost always a smart move. It can save you a significant amount of money and time on your divorce in comparison with fighting through the court system. Perhaps even more importantly, divorce mediation allows you to take control and ownership of your divorce negotiation. Even though it may be difficult to spend time with your spouse, mediation lets you articulate your perspective and negotiate for the things that are truly important to you.
A central figure in your mediation is the mediator. This individual is a neutral third party. He or she doesn’t have any power to make decisions on your behalf (like a judge would). Instead, this person acts as part therapist, part legal reference, and part guide to help you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse navigate all of the difficult twists and turns of the negotiation.
In essence, the job of a mediator is to help you each clarify your positions, make sure you each listen to the perspective of the other and encourage you to work together to find a divorce settlement that you can both live with. This is not an easy job, and the quality of your mediator can strongly influence whether your mediation is a success or whether you and your spouse end up in court to fight out the majority of your divorce settlement.
Every mediator has their own unique way of managing the mediation, so how do you pick and assess a mediator?
Ask for References
If you were looking for a home remodeler or a real estate agent, you wouldn’t blindly pick someone and hand over your money, right? We hope not! Instead, you would ask your friends about their experiences and request referrals. We all know people who have been divorced, so if you feel comfortable, ask them if they went through mediation and if they would recommend their mediator.
If you are consulting with a divorce attorney, your lawyer can certainly make recommendations of mediators.
Your mediator shouldn’t just be some Joe Blow off the street. Ideally, this person will be a divorce attorney who has a thorough understanding of divorce law. They should also have gone through mediation training, and have at least some experience acting in the capacity of a mediator. You don’t want to be guinea pigs as a new mediator tries to figure out what they are doing!
Finally, if you are strongly affiliated with your religion, you may want to find a special mediator who understands the religious laws you uphold so that your divorce negotiation can honor and abide by your belief system.
Schedule a Call
Once you have at least a few recommendations, schedule a consultation with the mediator. It is probably best to have your soon-to-be-ex-spouse and yourself together on the call so that the mediator can learn more about you both. It may also be possible for you each to speak separately with the mediator. No matter what you choose, both you and your spouse should speak with the mediator and make the decision together. On this call, you’ll want to introduce yourself to the mediator and layout your situation. You may also want briefly to address some of the biggest challenges you foresee in the negotiation.
The mediator should also introduce themselves and explain their background, experience, and personal mediation perspective. He or she should be able to walk you through a typical mediation and explain their personal style. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. This person is going to play a big part – maybe the biggest part – in your divorce.
Making the Decision
It is important that both you and your spouse both agree on a mediator. Pick a person you feel comfortable with. After all, you will have to air some dirty laundry in front of your divorce mediator. You want someone who is understanding and whom you respect. It’s okay to interview several different mediators. Take your time and make sure you don’t compromise on someone you aren’t sold on. If you can’t trust your mediator, you won’t be able to put yourself in a place where you are comfortable sharing your own thoughts and open to listening to your spouse.
This article is reprinted with permission from the Women's Institute for Financial Education (WIFE.org), creator of the Second Saturday Divorce Workshops. Founded in 1988, WIFE is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing financial education for women. Copyright 2019