Making the right decisions in the midst of a separation/divorce include choosing the right mediator. The emotional toll a divorce can have on you can cloud what should otherwise be a logical, straightforward decision. But it’s also important to evaluate your mediator candidate from different angles. You need help with the nuts and bolts of getting an agreement, but you also want to be sure that you are heard, that your opinion is important, and your opinion is valued. Here are a few key things you may wish to consider when selecting your divorce mediator.
How long has your mediator candidate been in business? Ask. Mediation is an incredibly difficult field to break into and is flooded with new, inexperienced providers with websites. You can always check the North Carolina Secretary of State website and do a “corporate lookup” to see how long someone has been in business. And one tell-tale sign of inexperience is one who bad-mouths other providers or their means. In the end, make sure he is experienced. Nothing is more frustrating than being add odds with your spouse in a mediation and your mediator genuinely does not know what to do.
Does your mediator candidate hold down another job? This is quite commonplace. Many mediators have other full-time jobs totally unrelated to mediation, “moonlighting” as mediators while they try to build a business. I suggest starting on LinkedIn.com to learn more about who you are thinking about hiring. You may be surprised to find that someone you are considering is actually a corporate businessman or car mechanic by day, mediator by night.
What is his background? Over the years, I have seen accountants, bankers, and even auto repair technicians attempt to break into the field. Look to see what formal education your candidate has. All mediators must receive a “40-hour course”, but does he have any formal, university level, conflict resolution training? It’s also common (and acceptable) for therapists and human resources professionals to transition to mediation as they have a strong, working background of conflict resolution.
Does your candidate mediate other disciplines? There are many providers who will mediate just about anything. I have seen some who will mediate car accidents as well as divorces. “Family mediators” will handle not only divorces, but elder care, parent/teen, and a variety of other family issues. If you had to have heart surgery, would you want a surgeon who does a little bit of everything or one who just does heart procedures? Those who specialize only in divorce may be your ticket. Also, on the subject of specialization, there are divorce mediators available who have further refined areas of expertise; maybe there is an alcohol/substance or other addiction. Or maybe a personality disorder. This type of mediator, when used for your divorce, can offer you solutions that you thought weren’t possible.
Should you have a mediator who is also an attorney? Many couples who decide to mediate on their own do so as they wish to not go “the attorney route.” If your mediator is/was an attorney, that mediator – in the interest of pushing an agreement along that you are not yet ready for — can easily offer legal advice that might not necessarily be the same advice you would receive if you had your own counsel. You may feel pressured into agreeing to something prematurely because, “the mediator is a lawyer, so I guess I should do this.”
Reviews. Does your mediator have legitimate online reviews? We have all bought items online and read reviews to be sure what we are buying is a good product. Have you ever thought, “Gosh, that review sounds so fake”? A lack of online reviews doesn’t mean a provider is not a good provider – maybe it means that the clients (whose name appears in the review) felt they wanted to keep their personal business off of the internet where the entire world could see.
Fee shopping. It’s tough out there and nobody wants to spend more than they have to. But don’t get drawn into the trap of going for the absolute lowest hourly rate. This would be okay if you knew that you were going to get the exact same product, in the exact same way, with the exact level of expertise, and in the exact same amount of time. You’re not buying a set of tires, you are trying to determine who is best suited to help your family. And the agreement you sign lasts a lifetime – unlike the few years you will have with those tires.
Listen to your gut instincts. After speaking with your mediator candidate(s), evaluate how you feel about them. Did you feel like the call was all business? Or did you feel like you “connected”? Did he understand the emotions you are going through and how to help you redirect those emotions into something positive? Did you feel the satisfaction of knowing that this person is the right person for you and your children? Did you almost feel a sense of relief when you made your decision? It’s more than business. This is tough. And you need someone who understands what you are going through.