If you have been following this blog for the past few months, you probably have a good idea of whether or not mediation is a suitable process for your divorce. You probably also have a good idea of whether or not you are ready to start the process. Maybe you are planning to take steps like pre-mediation coaching, or maybe you feel ready to get started right away. At this point, most people start to think about choosing a mediator and a consulting attorney.
Choosing a Mediator
The first thing you will discover when looking for a mediator is just how many of them are available. Trying to distinguish between mediators to find one that is right for you can be a daunting task. It is critical to check out a mediator’s credentials thoroughly, because in New Jersey, it is not necessary to obtain any license or education to begin practicing as a mediator. Most divorce mediators have a background in family law or family therapy, but experience and education can vary dramatically.
Interview More than One Candidate
If you have a referral from someone you trust, that is a good place to start. If not, you can do some online research and pick out a few possibilities that look good. Do not stick to just one prospect before making a final decision though. Talk to a few different candidates and gather more information about them first. Also, be aware that choosing a mediator is something that you and your spouse must do together. Mediators require both spouses to attend initial interviews, because both must have confidence in the mediator’s neutrality. If either spouse begins to believe that the mediator is biased toward the other spouse, no matter how slightly, the mediation process is less likely to be successful.
Important Factors in Choosing a Mediator
Some of the most important factors to look at when selecting a mediator are experience, training, knowledge, and reputation. The more mediations a mediator has completed, the more skilled the mediator will generally be. Checking a few references can provide further reassurance. The mediator’s background is also critical. An in-depth knowledge of family law is vital for obtaining good results as a divorce mediator. Mediators with formal training in divorce mediation have a better understanding of the issues most likely to come up and the best way to handle such issues. Mediators who have experience as family law attorneys will be more able to provide accurate information on the law to mediation participants.
The education and skills of a mediator are only part of the picture, however. One of the most important considerations is that you and your spouse both feel comfortable with the mediator’s communication style. A mediator’s fees are obviously also important, as you must be able to afford the mediator’s services. Divorce mediators often charge hourly rates similar to divorce attorney’s rates. Usually, however, mediation requires much less time by both mediators and attorneys than is required of attorneys in litigation. For more information on choosing a divorce mediator, see: How to Choose a Mediator.
Choosing a Consulting Attorney
Many people wonder why they still need divorce attorneys if they are spending money on a mediator who has experience and training in family law. The answer is that a mediator cannot advocate for either spouse. Mediators can provide legal information but not legal advice. Choosing mediation does not mean that you will not need attorneys, but it does mean that your attorneys will spend less time on your divorce. When paying by the hour, time is the critical element. Attorneys who represent clients in litigation spend many hours preparing legal documents and appearing in court. By contrast, attorneys in mediation generally spend just a few hours consulting with clients. There are times when more participation is necessary, but these are generally rare.
When to Hire a Consulting Attorney
At the very least, you will need an attorney to review your Marital Settlement Agreement before you finalize it. The best approach, however, is to hire an attorney early in the mediation process. Attorney advice can be critical in helping you stake out negotiating positions before you start mediation sessions. An attorney can also help you make sure you have all the necessary information and documents you need to get started with the process.
What to Look for in a Consulting Attorney
As with a divorce mediator, the best plan is to interview a few different candidates. You will want someone with substantial experience in family law, and someone who is settlement-oriented and believes in the mediation process. An attorney who is too litigation-oriented is not the best choice. It is still helpful though, for the attorney to have some experience in divorce court. This can give an attorney a good understanding of what a judge would be likely to decide. It also means that if any part of your negotiation breaks down, the attorney could represent you competently in court. For more information on hiring a consulting attorney, see Consulting Attorneys in Divorce Mediation.
Choosing a mediator and a consulting attorney are critical steps in preparing for divorce mediation. In our next post we will talk about taking the next steps.
Are you ready to start the mediation process now? Give us a call and schedule a free consultation today.