When hiring a divorce mediator, it's essential to understand that California does not have specific requirements or regulations for individuals to practice as "Divorce Mediators." With no standardized qualifications, exams, or governing bodies, it can be challenging to identify those mediators who are not only highly skilled and competent as mediators but also the right match for your style and needs as a couple. To help you navigate this process effectively, I have outlined a five-step approach that will assist you in selecting the right divorce mediator for your needs.
Step 1: Identify Potential Candidates:
Begin by gathering 2-4 mediator potential options with input from your spouse, as the selection process will be a joint one. Seek recommendations from trusted sources such as therapists or individuals with prior experience working with a particular mediator. Research your potential candidates by exploring client testimonials and peer reviews on platforms like Google and Yelp and examine their websites for a professional feel. Take the time to read any blogs they may have published to understand their approach and style better. Determine if you want to work in person with a mediator or over Zoom. Some mediators stopped offering in-person mediation during COVID and no longer have office space. Many mediators that may not have been geographically practical for you before COVID now offer mediation via Zoom. Your options have most likely expanded if you prefer to work over Zoom and possibly shrank if you prefer in-person mediation.
Step 2: Schedule Interviews:
Once you have narrowed your options, schedule interviews via Zoom or in person with each potential candidate. Whenever possible, involve your spouse in these interviews. While I offer a complimentary 30-minute Discovery Session, not all mediators provide this option, so inquire about any associated fees before you schedule and discuss with your spouse how you will pay for these fees before you commit. The ease with which you can schedule your introductory meeting may tell you a great deal about the ease of scheduling going forward.
Step 3: Prepare for the Interviews:
To ensure a productive interview process, it's important to prepare relevant questions and consider specific concerns related to your unique situation. During the interviews, share a thumbnail sketch of your details, such as the years you have been married, any children at home, homeownership, who is working, and any unique aspects of your divorce. Next, focus on interviewing your candidates. Here are the types of questions to ask a divorce mediator:
Q1. Mediation Training and Experience
Ask the mediator to provide a detailed history of their mediation training with details regarding their years and breadth of experience. Pay attention to how they address this topic and whether they openly discuss their credentials or try to evade the question. Is divorce mediation and/or parenting mediation their sole area of practice?
Q2. Co-Parenting Training and Experience
If you have children, high on your list of important competencies should be your mediator’s skills and training in the more specialized area of co-parent planning. Some mediators prefer not to work on the parent planning and refer their clients to co-parenting specialists, which can be helpful or disjointed, as the home and finances inevitably factor into decisions you will jointly be making about your co-parenting plan.
Q3. Questions to Ask a Divorce Mediator: Subject Matter Proficiency
If you are a business owner, receive complex equity pay, have pre-marital property to carve out, or have other potentially complex legal issues, check in with each candidate to determine if they have subject matter proficiency and if, as part of their practice, they connect and refer you to experts who can apply the law to your more complex circumstances. An excellent mediator should have a range of experts they can refer you to who also work as neutrals with both of you.
Q4. Communication and Listening Skills
Observe whether the mediator actively listens to your questions and gives you ample opportunity to express yourselves. Are they making eye contact and allowing you to finish your questions? A mediator with active listening skills and effective communication skills will play a crucial role in the likelihood of a successful mediation process.
Q5. Neutral and Informative Style
Ask about their mediation style and assess whether the mediator's responses are informative and educational and affirm that the style and approach they claim to take is the one you are experiencing. A skilled mediator should not impose their opinions and is not here to advise you but to inform and guide the process impartially. Additionally, consider whether the mediator maintains a balanced environment where you and your spouse feel included. Is his or her explanation of their process clear and concise, or do you feel like you are on a sales call?
Q6. Attorneys Present
There are different types of mediation. The collaborative model includes each party attending with their consulting attorneys. In most mediations, you do not bring your attorneys because one of the goals is to manage costs, but is the mediator open to inviting consulting attorneys into the mediation to break an impasse? Can the mediator provide you with a list of mediation-friendly consulting attorneys?
Q7. Comfortable and Well-Equipped Office
Evaluate the mediator's office space to ensure it is safe, comfortable, private, and well-equipped. Look for amenities like a whiteboard, Wi-Fi, tissues, pens, pads, water, and snacks. Sufficient workspace is essential for everyone's comfort during the mediation sessions. If you plan to work over Zoom, interview your candidate about his or her proficiency with Zoom and how they share documents or use an online whiteboard.
Q8. Compatibility and Correspondence
Determine if the mediator's style and skills align with your needs and expectations. Additionally, inquire about their preferred communication methods and ensure they can accommodate your preferences. How will you share sensitive financial information, will it be stored, and is their system secure?
Q9. Availability and Booking System
Assess their availability, working hours, flexibility, cancelation policy, and booking system to ensure compatibility with your schedules and specific needs.
Q10. Fee Structure and Payment Options
Ask for a fee quote and inquire about available payment methods. Look for mediators who offer a flat fee structure to ensure transparency and avoid potential conflicts of interest, as this will help you budget for the mediation process effectively.
Step 4: Schedule Interviews
Schedule 3 to 4 interviews with your spouse at a time that you have both privacy and no distractions. If you want to mediate online, book a Zoom session so you experience their online style and setup from the outset. If you prefer to mediate in person, an in-person interview will give you the feel for their space, parking and how convenient their physical location is for both of you, but some clients want to mediate in person and still elect to interview via Zoom because driving and parking for a 30 minute screening interview may not be convenient.
Step 5: Choose Your Mediator
Now it’s time to jointly chose your divorce mediator. By preparing for the interviews with your spouse or partner, you are already collaborating in the spirit of mediation. By asking the right questions of your candidates and honestly treating this like one of the most important positions you will ever have to vet for, you are positioned to choose your best candidate.
When you choose to mediate your divorce and/or co-parenting plan, you have given yourselves the opportunity to leave with privacy and dignity. When you choose a skilled and seasoned mediator, one who can provide you with creative options, help you access skilled professional resources as needed, and one who can help you to think bigger than a judge and more like a couple who wants what is best for your reorganizing family, you are on the path to a regret-free divorce or separation and will be more financially and emotionally ready to move on and thrive after divorce.
Laura McGee is an experienced divorce mediator and a certified co-parenting specialist with extensive training, experience, and knowledge working with couples and co-parents. Laura can work via Zoom throughout California and has a physical office in the Village of Carlsbad. Laura offers couples a complimentary Discovery Session. Book online now to interview Laura McGee and determine if she is the right candidate to mediate your divorce or co-parenting plan.