What is a Mediator? (July 2013)

There is no certification in California for mediators, so anyone can work as a mediator, regardless of training or background. This can create a lot of confusion for someone starting a divorce. Here is a breakdown to help distinguish the options.

Many attorneys offer mediation on the side of their litigation practice. No mediation training is required to offer this. Having an attorney acting as a mediator offers the benefit of the legal expertise in the room, however, its critical to have mediation training as well. Attorneys that are trained as mediators offer both sets of skills, that is, legal expertise and neutral mediation.

Many Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) also work as mediators including for those going through divorce. They often specialize in child custody matters or coparenting counseling, meaning they help you with scheduling plans along the way. Many other licensed in the field of counseling or psychotherapy do similar custody mediation or coparent counseling. I strongly recommend working with someone trained in this field for help with custody and coparenting. I believe that working with an expert in this field will prove beneficial over working with an attorney mediator for a few reasons. Firstly, they are truly experts in children and coparenting. They have brilliant ideas and solutions for how to handle everything from teenagers breaking rules at the other parent’s house, to how to split the week well with a varied work schedule. Second, they will save you money when compared to an attorney mediator helping you with custody. Many coparent counselors charge lower rates than attorneys and some of them even take health insurance. Finally, you can have an ongoing relationship with the coparent counselor as needed. Typically, the attorney mediator will help you get to your final divorce agreement, and then you will say your goodbye to the attorney never having to meet with him or her again. (We don’t take it personally!) A coparent counselor, it is ideal to find someone that you both like working with and that can help you over time, over the years that you have to coparent. This can prevent challenges from becoming battles.

Some mediators are neither attorneys nor trained therapists. For many areas of disputes, this kind of mediator can be appropriate. Mediation alone brings with it a certain skill set that can alleviate conflict and bring about resolution. In divorce however, the content is very specialized and without having the expertise in family law and custody, you may miss a big piece of the puzzle. I see the attorney mediator as the expert in the finances and family law, and the custody mediator as the expert in your children. Together, they make the ideal team.

Checklist for finding a qualified divorce mediator in your area:
–an attorney, licensed in your state
–specializes in family law
–the majority of their practice is mediation
–meets ONLY with both of you together as a neutral
–will NOT make a final decision if you two don’t agree (that is considered arbitration)
–the meeting will be confidential (court mediation in many counties, including Santa Cruz County, is recommending).
–you will not have to make any decisions on the spot or sign any content agreements in the session
–Will draft a final, legally binding Marital Settlement Agreement with full details of ALL aspects of your divorce.

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