Divorce can be emotionally and financially draining process. Working with the right professionals can help you ease this major life transition.
Using a divorce mediator can make the split more fair, balanced, and peaceful. It can also save time, money, and energy. Mediation can be particularly helpful when children are involved.
If you can, try to meet with a few mediators before committing yourself to working with one. Many mediators offer a free initial consultation. You can learn much from meeting with them in person.
What do you need to look for in a good divorce mediator? Here are 6 tips to finding a good fit:
Do they specialize in mediation? Many professionals offer mediation as an additional service, but if it's not their focus, they may not have the same level of expertise. Find out if they have had specific training in family-based mediation, or if they stay active in mediation organizations. Ask them how long they have been mediating, and how much of their practice is mediation. If they mostly litigate contested divorces, which require zealous advocacy, it might be difficult for them to change hats to think like a neutral mediator. Asking how they got into mediation might be a good start.
What do they know about divorce? Many divorce mediators are also attorneys or therapists. But look a little closer – do they practice divorce law or commercial litigation? Couples therapy or something entirely different? Have they had specific training in divorce? Are they familiar with divorce laws in your state?
Though you are attempting to solve your case in a civilized manner, the separation process can still be extremely emotional. The mediator's job is to control the process, but not to make decisions for you. You and your ex- are the experts on the content. A good mediator will remain neutral and help facilitate the conversation to keep the communication lines open. You should feel that both sides are being heard and that the communication is fair and balanced.
Expert mediators can guide the conversations based on the wants and needs of everyone in the family. Since they're neutral outsiders, they can see the big picture. A good mediator should offer a safe environment for all family members to communicate their specific needs. You'll know if they're really listening to your needs if they can reflect them back to you accurately, and if they check in with you to make sure they understand.
Do they offer you a clear idea of how the mediation process will work? Do they answer your questions? Can they give you an estimate of timing and fees? Can they write the divorce agreement and file the divorce papers, or will you need to hire someone else to do that? A good mediator will recommend that you have a mediation-friendly attorney review the agreement before you sign it – someone who can give you legal advice. Some couples use neutral child specialists or financial neutrals as part of the process. Is that recommended for you?
The type of support you need may dictate the type of mediator you choose. For instance, if there is a history of mental illness, you might choose a mediator with a therapy background who may be able to provide more emotional support. Mediators who have legal background can give you some insight into the courts would view your situation. But ultimately, what matters most is that you feel safe enough to express yourself and that you are heard.
Your mediator should provide a sense of professionalism, be compassionate and neutral, and create a safe space for clear communication to occur while dealing with a major life change.
Joy S. Rosenthal is the founder of Rosenthal Law & Mediation, which is located in New York City. She has extensive experience in all matters of family law, as well as estate planning.