How to Find a Good Divorce Mediator

Your guide to finding the right divorce mediator: qualities to look for, key questions to ask, and how to begin your search.

By , Retired Judge
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Mediation helps many people navigate the maze that is divorce. It's a method of negotiating 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 way to minimize divorce-related stress and expense.

Of course, a good mediation experience requires a good mediator. You can increase your chances of success by using these tips to hire a knowledgeable, skilled professional.

What Should I Look for in a Divorce Mediator?

Many mediators provide a free initial session to discuss what's involved in the process, and to give you a chance to determine if working together will be a good fit. As you research and talk to mediators, think about whether each has the following qualities.

Specialized Knowledge

The right mediator for your divorce will have experience helping spouses resolve issues similar to the ones you're facing. 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 assist you in finding the fairest way to divide your property.

By the same token, if the true point of contention in your divorce relates to 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. It's also important for a mediator to be familiar with your state's divorce laws on the topics at issue in your case.

You could decide to use an attorney as your mediator, particularly when there's a broad range of topics you can't agree on. Attorneys who do divorce mediation are usually seasoned family law practitioners, well-versed on all topics that arise in dissolving a marriage. They can be well worth the cost, but attorney mediators do tend to charge more.

Note that using an attorney as a mediator is different than hiring an attorney to represent or work with you as you go through the mediation process. Some people, including spouses who can afford the extra cost and who have complex cases, go to mediation while also having a lawyer.

Appropriate Training

It's very important to work with a mediator who has received appropriate mediation training. Relevant training is especially important if you're thinking about using a lawyer as your mediator: Divorce 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 conducting a productive mediation session.

A Personality That Fits

Finally, choose a mediator you feel you can trust. You need someone who will really listen, and who will be calm and fair. A good mediator guides couples to come up with their own solutions and doesn't dominate conversations with opinions.

7 Questions to Ask Potential Mediators

Now that you have an idea of what to look for in a divorce mediator, here are some questions you can ask to help you decide whom to hire. Some online mediation services will assign you a mediator—if you're using such a service, you can still ask these questions.

  1. What sort of training do you have? Many mediation courses involve at least 40 hours of training. But you'll want to know more than whether the mediator has met the technical requirements to become a mediator. For instance, if the mediator doesn't have specialized divorce training, it's best to look elsewhere.
  2. Are you required to be certified as a mediator by our state's courts? If so, are you? Court certification isn't always needed for someone to mediate divorce cases, but it's an indicator of expertise in the field.
  3. What types of cases do you mediate? A mediator who mediates cases in a number of areas of the law can still do a great job with your case, but you might be more comfortable with a mediator who specializes in divorce.
  4. How long have you been mediating divorce cases? How many have you handled? Don't be shy about asking how many cases the mediator has handled. Nor should you hesitate to ask how the mediator defines success (more on this topic below) or how often they've been successful. That said, if you're very comfortable with a mediator who's properly trained, lack of experience needn't be a deal breaker.
  5. In your opinion, what makes a divorce mediation successful? The mediator should give an answer that includes the preparation of a written settlement agreement. If not, you might want to continue your search for another mediator who will help you complete this key document.
  6. What are your fees? Some mediators charge by the hour. It's not unusual for attorney-mediators to charge the same hourly rates that attorneys charge for non-mediation work. The hourly rates of mediators who are not attorneys are typically far lower than attorney-mediator rates. However, the hourly rate will probably depend on where you live. Some mediators—and many 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, which is a lot cheaper than each of you paying your own attorney to do battle in court.
  7. What do your fees include? Mediators often charge more for "extras" like filing the paperwork, use of a process server, court fees, and additional sessions (if the parties don't reach an agreement during the scheduled sessions).

All of the above questions are appropriate to ask mediators who hold online or in-person sessions. (Read about the pros and cons of online mediation.) If you're planning to do online mediation, you might also want to ask the mediator to explain the general process, including whether you would need any special technology to participate (usually you won't).

7 Ways to Find a Divorce Mediator

Mediation is such a popular method of settling legal issues that there's no shortage of qualified mediators. Here are some ways to find one.

  1. Personal recommendations. Of course, firsthand knowledge is always helpful. Recommendations from friends or family members who've been through divorce mediation are often the best referrals you can get.
  2. Your marriage counselor or therapist. If you've used the services of a marriage counselor or therapist, inquire about mediators they've worked with and trust.
  3. An online mediation service. If you know you want to mediate your divorce online, finding a mediator is as simple as pinning down a service provider. Most reputable online mediation services will assign your case to a qualified mediator who appears to be a good match based on your answers to a few straightforward questions.
  4. Your local courthouse. The clerk at your local courthouse might have a list of mediators who regularly work on court-ordered mediations—these mediators often have practices of their own and are willing to take on private clients.
  5. Your state courts' administration office. The office that oversees all the courts in your state might maintain a list of approved mediators—check the state judiciary website to see if it's provided there, or give the office a call.
  6. Your state or county bar association. The professional organization of lawyers (known as the "bar") in your state or county might maintain a list of qualified mediators. (The mediators referred by the bar association will probably be lawyers.)
  7. 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.

Working With Your Spouse to Choose a Mediator

Unless your spouse will go along with whichever mediator you choose, you won't be picking one on your own. Most couples handle the process of finding a mediator in one of two ways:

  • both spouses propose a list of potential mediators to choose from, or
  • one spouse chooses a mediator from a list of mediators the other spouse has already approved.

If you haven't yet proposed mediation to your spouse, you'll have to decide whether to raise the subject before you start looking for a mediator. Some people find it helpful to gather a list of mediators they've already interviewed and present it to their spouse at the same time that they propose mediation. Others might worry that their spouse will feel cornered or left out of the process when presented with a list of mediators right away, so they talk with their spouse before starting a search. Think about which approach might work best given your past and current relationship with your spouse.

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