You want a divorce.
And you want to mediate.
Which is more than I knew when my ex-husband and I made the decision to end our marriage.
We hadn't ever heard of mediation. All we knew is we wanted to get a divorce without lawyers. Because we didn't want to go broke in the process.
A friend told me about mediation and luckily, my divorce went quite smoothly. My now ex-husband and I completed the process in a few months and our entire divorce cost less than we would have spent on the attorney retainers alone.
But as you probably already know, making the decision to use mediation is only a small part of the divorce process.
You also need to figure out how to find a good mediator.
Because the mediator you hire to guide you through the divorce process is just as important as the decision to use mediation itself.
So what are the criteria to use when evaluating the qualifications of a mediator? And how can you know if a mediator you're considering is qualified to handle your divorce?
Luckily you've come to the right place because those questions and more will be answered in this post...
How to find a good divorce mediator
Other than the decision to divorce itself, there is no single more important decision than choosing a divorce mediator qualified to handle your divorce.
The mediator you choose will play a critical role in:
- How well your divorce goes from both a financial and emotional standpoint
- How thorough your agreement is
- How likely you'll need to return to court in the future
- How fair and equitable your settlement will be
Hiring a mediator best qualified to help you will make all the difference in how peaceful and cost-effective your divorce will be. And how fair, thorough and child-focused your agreement will be.
There are 5 Steps for How to Find a Mediator For Divorce:
Step 1: Learn good mediator qualifications and questions to ask a mediator
Step 2: Identify a few mediators who practice in your state
Step 3: Do some research and create a short-list of divorce mediators to consider
Step 4: Schedule an initial meeting with the mediator(s)
Step 5: Choosing a divorce mediator best qualified to help you
Step 1: Learn good mediator qualifications and questions to ask a divorce mediator
To help you know what to look for when choosing a divorce mediator, you first need to know the criteria for what makes a good mediator.
Mediation is an unregulated profession in most states.
That means, anyone (and I mean anyone), can build a website, print out a business card and call themselves a divorce mediator.
Questions to ask a mediator regarding their qualifications include:
- What training has the mediator had?
Basic divorce mediation training is 40 hours. And some mediators don't have any training at all.
In addition to knowing about the laws surrounding divorce, a mediator also needs to know how to mediate.
Mediation is a skill unto itself.
Some attorneys feel that attending law school provides them the skills they need in order to practice mediation.
But while they may have a grasp of the laws, they may or may not know how to be an effective mediator. They also may not have the financial acumen required to resolve the many complex financial issues surrounding divorce.
Non-attorney mediators may have taken a divorce mediation training class and understand basic mediation techniques, but may or may not have the legal or financial expertise required to be an effective mediator.
The key is to find a mediator who has been professionally trained, knows the laws, and is also skilled in resolving the complex financial issues surrounding divorce.
- How long has the mediator been practicing?
While all mediators have to start somewhere, make sure the mediator you hire has the experience to handle the complexities of your specific situation.
You'll need someone experienced and highly skilled to ensure your settlement is fair, thorough and will be acceptable to the courts.
- Is Mediation their full-time profession?
You may encounter mediators who also have a "day-job" such as social worker, accountant or litigator.
But if the mediator you're considering isn't mediating full-time, it may make staying on top of the latest developments in the field difficult.
- How much experience does the mediator have specifically in divorce mediation?
Some mediators handle civil or business disputes. Others handle family and divorce matters.
Some split their time between the two.
Even if they're a full-time mediator, make sure they have sufficient experience with divorce.
- What is the mediator's financial acumen?
Divorce is less about laws and more about money.
In fact, three of the four areas that need to be resolved in a divorce are directly related to money and finances: Child Support, Division of Marital Assets and Liabilities and Alimony.
So it's important the mediator you're working with has a firm grasp on the basics such as calculating child support or determining alimony.
But it's also critical they're able to value retirement assets, bracket support scenarios, prepare a balance sheet and make you aware of potential tax issues that may affect your settlement.
- What does the mediator do to stay on top of the latest developments in their profession?
Laws and mediation techniques frequently change, so seek a mediator who stays on top of the latest developments and trends and is a respected authority in their profession.
Find out about the mediator's continuing education efforts and involvement in their professional community.
- What is the mediator's case resolution rate?
What is the mediator's rate of settlement?
A good mediator should be able to successfully resolve at least 90-95% of their cases.
Step 2: Identify a few mediators who practice in your state
Now that you know the criteria to use when evaluating a divorce mediator, the next step is to identify a few mediators who practice in your state.
If you've been seeing an individual or couples counselor, or you have family or friends who used mediation for their divorce, they may be able to give you the names of some local mediators.
Finding a mediator on the internet can also be a helpful place to start.
Step 3: Research the divorce mediators and create a short list
Once you've found the names of a few mediators who practice in your state, you can click around on their websites to dig deeper and learn more about them.
Since no two divorces are the same, you'll want to find divorce mediators who possess the skills and expertise to help you resolve all of the issues relevant to your situation.
For example, if you own a home, are self-employed, have retirement accounts or lots of debt, you'll want a mediator with a financial background.
Or, if you and your spouse are a high conflict couple and are having a difficult time communicating, you may want a mediator who includes coaching.
See if there is information on their websites that answer the questions outlined in Step 1.
If not, you can also call their office to see if they'll spend some time on the phone with you answering questions.
Remember, there's a big difference between finding just any mediator and choosing a good divorce mediator who is a highly skilled expert.
Your goal is to narrow down the list of prospective mediators to a short list of two or three.
Step 4: Schedule an initial meeting with each mediator
After you've compiled a short-list of prospective mediators, it's time to schedule an initial meeting with each of them.
Some mediators conduct their initial meetings in-person, some conduct them by telephone and some conduct initial meetings virtually using the phone and online meeting software.
Some charge a fee for their initial meeting and some do not.
It varies from mediator to mediator.
A good divorce mediator isn't necessarily the one who offers a free consultation or has an office closest to your home.
During your initial meeting. seek answers to any remaining open questions about the mediator's qualifications along with information on the mediator's services and fees:
- What is the scope of services provided by the mediator?
Does the mediator provide services to help you complete all of the steps to divorce?
Does he or she have a proven process to keep things efficient and on-track?
Will the mediator provide you with a comprehensive agreement or will you need to pay an attorney to re-draft your agreement at the end of the mediation process?
Does the mediator effectively leverage technology to make the process as efficient as possible including the ability to mediate "virtually?"
Does he or she offer any services to address the emotional aspects of divorce?
Does the mediator have the expertise to perform pension valuations in-house or will you need to pay an outside professional to do this for you?
Can the mediator facilitate the administrative filing of your divorce with the courts?
If other specialists need to be involved at any point in your divorce such as an accountant, mortgage professional or real estate agent, does the mediator have a network of trusted professionals to whom they can refer you?
- What are the mediator's fees?
Divorce mediation fees vary significantly based on the state you live in, the experience and skill level of the mediator, the different services they offer and individual case complexities.
Some mediators require payment after each session and will then charge a separate fee for drafting of the paperwork including the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which outlines all of the terms of your agreement.
Others require an initial retainer and will then bill you by the hour after that. Some mediators charge extra fees for e-mail and telephone communications, pension valuations and additional services such as emotional or operational support (if they offer these services at all).
There are even a few mediators who offer flat-fee pricing for their services so you can know up front exactly what your mediation will cost from start to finish. An added benefit to this type of fee structure is that the mediator has no incentive to drag things out for the sake of their own financial gain.
While it's common to want to compare the fees of various mediators, it's important to recognize that it may be difficult to compare apples to apples based on the various factors described above.
You will always find someone cheaper, but the bottom line is if you choose your mediator solely on their price, you may wind up sacrificing the quality of your agreement.
And this may cause you to have to spend more money and time at the end of the process or in the future whether it be to re-draft paperwork or correct mistakes or omissions.
Step 5: Choosing a mediator to hire for your divorce
Once you've had initial meetings with your short list of prospective mediators, it's time to make your final decision for choosing a divorce mediator.
Think about each initial meeting and ask yourself:
- Did you get an overview of the mediator's professional background and training?
- Did they clearly explain their divorce and mediation process to you?
- Did the mediator get to know a bit about your situation and tell you if you are a good fit for mediation?
- Did they share with you their case resolution rate?
- Were they upfront about mediation costs and how their fee structure works?
- Did they outline their scope of services? Do they limit their services to divorce mediation only? Or can they help you complete all of the steps to divorce?
And most importantly, were they compassionate and did you feel comfortable with them?
All of these things can go a long way towards helping you and your spouse peacefully come to an agreement that is fair to both of you and that puts your children first.
How to find a good mediator requires time and effort, but it's worth it!
So there you have it! You now know:
- That other than the decision to divorce itself, there is no single more important decision than choosing a good mediator to handle your divorce;
- That your success in the mediation process lies squarely on the experience and competency of your mediator;
- That if you want a high quality mediation that's peaceful, cost effective and results in an agreement that is fair, thorough and in the best interests of your children, it's crucial you choose your mediator based on their knowledge, experience and ability to help you in your unique situation.