Mediation is a way to negotiate the terms of a divorce without going to court. Because mediation is usually faster, more informal, and less expensive than battling it out in court, it's often an excellent choice for people who want to minimize divorce-related stress and expense.
When you choose the right mediator for your divorce, you're more likely to reach a settlement with your spouse. You can use the tips below to create a list of potential mediators in your area, then use the suggested questions to narrow down your list.
The best way to find a good mediator is to ask for personal recommendations from friends or family members who've been through divorce mediation. If you aren't able to get a referral from someone with firsthand knowledge of the process, though, consider asking some of these sources for names of effective mediators in your area.
National and state mediation organizations and directories. The Academy of Professional Family Mediators, the National Association of Community Mediation, and the National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals are just a few of the many organizations where you can find mediators.
Once you have a list of potential mediators, your next step is to interview them to find the best match for your case. If the mediators on your list have websites, check them out—many mediators explain their practices in details and offer an FAQ section that will address many of your questions.
Most mediators offer a free initial consultation where you can ask them these questions and find out more about their practices and procedures.
Mediators who handle cases in many areas of the law might be well qualified to assist you, but you might be more comfortable with one who specializes in divorce. Because divorce usually involves questions of law as well as emotional matters, you need a mediator who has both the expertise and the temperament to deal with all the issues that might arise.
Many mediation courses involve at least 40 hours of training. A general training course in mediation is the bare minimum of what you'll look for in your mediator, though. If the mediator doesn't have specialized training in divorce or family law, it might be best to look elsewhere.
For example, you can ask whether the mediator's training included instruction about your state's divorce laws. Ideally, this would include topics such as child custody and visitation (parenting time), spousal support (alimony), and the division of debts and marital property.
Many mediators are also lawyers, but there's no requirement that a mediator be a lawyer. In fact, if the issues in dispute in your case are narrow, you might want to consider a non-lawyer. For example, if the sticking points in your marriage are primarily financial, you might opt for a mediator who is also a CPA (certified public accountant) or a CDFA (certified divorce financial analyst). A mediator who specializes in financial disputes can help with asset valuations and suggest ways to efficiently and fairly divide your property.
Similarly, if you and your spouse can't come to an agreement about child custody, mediators who are psychologists, social workers, or MFTs (marriage and family therapists)—or who otherwise have training and experience in child custody mediation—might be your best bet.
On the other hand, when there's a broad range of topics you can't agree on, consider hiring an attorney-mediator. Attorneys who do divorce mediation are usually seasoned family law practitioners. They do tend to charge more, but their broad knowledge and expertise can be well worth the cost.
It's important to make sure that any attorney-mediator you work with has formal mediation training. Family law attorneys might know the law, but experience in the divorce court system often generates a combative mentality. That's the last thing you want when trying to amicably resolve your dispute—there's an art to fostering collaboration during mediation that most divorce lawyers will have to learn.
In some states, mediators are required to be certified by either the state or a local court. You'll want to ask if certification or licensing of some sort is required where you live, and, if so, whether the mediator currently meets all requirements.
Don't be shy about asking how many cases the mediator has handled. As a follow up, you'll want to find out how the mediator defines a successful mediation. For example, is a successful mediation one where the spouses resolve at least one issue? Or should they walk away with a written marital settlement agreement that addresses all the issues in their divorce?
If the mediator doesn't consider a written marital settlement agreement to be a necessary part of a successful mediation, or if the mediator doesn't include a written settlement agreement as part of the service, you might want to continue your search until you find a mediator who will help you complete this key document.
If you meet with a mediator who's relatively new but is properly trained, lack of experience needn't be a deal breaker, especially if you and your spouse are comfortable with the mediator. Feeling at ease with and trusting the mediator can play a major role in successfully completing mediation.
Many mediators now offer virtual (online) mediation sessions. Because online mediation allows the parties to participate from any location with an Internet connection, it's a good option when spouses live far apart or don't want to meet in person. That said, online divorce mediation has its pros and cons—whether it's right for you depends on the circumstances of your case.
Some mediators charge by the hour. It's not unusual for attorney-mediators to charge the same hourly rates they charge for non-mediation work. The hourly rates of mediators who aren't attorneys are typically lower than attorney-mediator rates. However, the hourly rate will probably depend on where you live. Some mediators—and many divorce mediation services—charge by the session or offer a flat fee for the entire process. The good news is that you and your spouse will likely be sharing the cost of mediation, which is a lot cheaper than each of you paying your own attorney to do battle in court.