FAQs – Choosing a Mediator

What are the most important qualities to look for?

choosing a mediatorWhile the qualities required vary somewhat depending on the nature of each divorce, overall I would suggest that the following qualities are most important in approximately the following order when choosing a mediator:

  • excellent deep listening skills;
  • skillful handling of conflict-laden communication processes;
  • excellent organizational and problem-solving skills;
  • a clear understanding of the basics of divorce law;
  • a thorough understanding of the many financial aspects of divorce;
  • a thorough understanding of how to help parents create durable co-parenting plans;
  • a clear focus on providing excellent service, as evidenced by attitude, qualifications, training, professionalism and active membership in professional mediation organizations.

Since people skills are most important, I advise both of you to meet candidates in person when choosing a mediator.

Should the mediator also be a lawyer?

Not necessarily.  There are many excellent mediators who are not lawyers.  Most mediators come to mediation as a second career. While some come from law, many come from other disciplines.  Effective divorce mediation requires a set of skills and attitudes that is very different from those characteristic of a litigation-oriented attorney.  The many lawyers who attempt to make the transition to mediation frequently have to try to give up habits and approaches which made them successful litigators.

Some lawyers are good mediators; many others are not.  Few have received extensive mediation training.  Very few are full-time mediators.  Nowadays a growing number of family lawyers offer mediation alongside their main, litigation-based practice. This reflects the growing understanding that the collaborative nature of mediation provides a better service to couples than the traditional adversarial approach that lawyers are trained in.

In practice, only about 1% of a divorce mediation involves talking about the law because the law gives you lots of latitude to come up with your own solutions.  However, to facilitate well-informed decision making, you should have access to what the law says about divorce.  A good divorce mediator will know basic divorce law and procedure and be able to communicate it to you.  A good divorce mediator will also support each of you having a lawyer if this is your choice – whether as a consultant or as someone who represents you.