When you are going through a divorce, the world is turned upside down. Your present life has changed — but your expectations for your future have also changed.
You and your ex might decide to mediate if:
- You want to try to preserve an amicable relationship between you for the sake of your children; or
- If you still have good enough communication that you can resolve things, with the help of a neutral expert; or
- If funds are really limited for paying the fees for your divorce.
Once you have agreed that you want to mediate, you have to choose a mediator. Here's how:
First, The most important piece of a relationship with any professional is whether you feel comfortable and confident in the abilities of that person. For that reason, most people get personal recommendations from friends, cousins, therapists, even hair-cutters. The web may also be able to help you to weed out some mediators. You can get some information about their backgrounds, qualifications, and approaches to mediation, from their websites.
Second, you should decide whether you want a mediator whose primary background is training as a therapist, or whose primary background is training as a lawyer. An attorney-mediator will be able to help you to focus on the legal issues surrounding your divorce, and help you to structure a fair settlement. S/he can give you information about the law, and guide you both to make decisions that work for you, and are fair in the context of the law.
Any mediator will also guide you to express and work through the emotions. In the end of any relationship there are a lot of feelings, and they inform what each of you believes is fair and so, your feelings provide a lot of valuable information for the negotiation. But if you and your ex feel that your conflicts center around emotional issues, you might want to consider a therapist-mediator, who will help you to process and understand the emotions while guiding you through to the settlement.
In many states, an attorney-mediator will be able to file papers for your divorce, and thus give you "one-stop shopping," while with a therapist-mediator you will have to find an attorney to file the papers with the court. However, many therapist-mediators collaborate with attorneys to help their clients through that part of the process.
Third, you should find a mediator who is well-qualified and capable, meaning s/he is:
- Committed to the field of mediation;
- Involved in the mediation community, so that he or she can continue to hone skills; keep abreast of changes in the law; strive for excellence, and be a reflective practitioner, always thinking and trying to improve.
All of the mediators I respect are members of professional organizations and participate in ongoing education to continue to hone and improve their skills as mediators. A handful of states offer a license or certification for a mediator, but most do not. So you have to look for local mediation organizations which offer voluntary accreditations.
The first place to start is the Association for Conflict Resolution (www.acrnet.org). ACR is the one national organization which provides experienced family and divorce mediators with the status of Advanced Practitioner. This certification means that a mediator has completed a minimum of 60 hours of family mediation training, which includes either a 30-hour family mediation training course or a 40-hour divorce mediation training course, as well as 20 hours of continuing training every two years. Additionally, approved mediators have completed two hours of domestic violence awareness training. In addition, approved mediators have completed at least 250 hours of face-to-face family mediation in at least 25 different cases.
If you cannot find an Advanced Practitioner in Family Law who is in your area and a member of ACR, you can look for local organizations which may provide accreditation for mediators. For example, the New York State Council on Divorce Mediation (www.nysmediate.org) offers accreditation for experienced members.
As part of this process, you want to interview the mediator to find out whether s/he is a good fit for you. Many mediators offer you a free in-person consultation, which you and your ex should attend, but you can also speak to the mediator on the telephone to get a sense of what s/he is like. Do you feel comfortable talking to this person? Do you feel that s/he is listening to you and hearing you? Does s/he listen to you so that you feel heard, and can then focus on issues that may be difficult?
During the interview, you should ask how the mediator will bill you. Most mediators charge by the hour. Some charge you for time during mediation sessions, and then charge another flat fee/specific amount for the drafting of a settlement agreement. Some mediators ask for a chunk of money (called a retainer fee) in advance, similar to attorneys. With a retainer fee, you will receive monthly statements of sums used from the retainer. You have to replenish (pay more toward) the retainer if it runs out and, if there is anything remaining at the end, you will get a refund. You should always find out how you will be billed for their services.
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