In divorce mediation, you and your spouse (and your respective divorce attorneys) meet with a neutral third party, the mediator, and with his or her help, amicably work to reach agreements on all the pertinent issues of divorce, including child custody, division of assets, and child support and alimony payments.
Unlike divorces litigated in open court, where couples typically have no say in the judge assigned to their case, in a mediated divorce, you and your spouse are responsible for finding, hiring, and paying the mediator you both agree to work with throughout this process.
Dealing with the end of a marriage can be confusing enough, so how do you know you have found the best mediator for your divorce? As you weigh potential candidates, here are four steps to help you reach a decision:
1. What are the mediator’s credentials? No state, including New Jersey, has yet to put in place certification rules regarding mediators. As a result, there are many people who have simply hung out their shingle as divorce mediators without any real credentials. To separate the wheat from the chaff as you begin your search, look for someone with a strong knowledge of the state’s divorce laws (mediators are not supposed to give legal advice, but can dispense legal information), a graduate degree in law, at least 60 hours in mediation training/experience, and a commitment to following the Model Standards of Practice for Family and Divorce Mediation. If you are stuck on how to find mediators with these types of credentials, ask your divorce lawyer for a list of recommendations. Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group’s team of attorneys can act as mediators in New Jersey if and when none of them represent you (or your spouse) as divorce attorneys.
2. Ask Questions. When meeting or speaking with any prospective mediator, ask questions that will help you uncover conflicts of interest and understand the basics of how much mediation services cost and what services are included. Questions to ask include:
– Do you know my spouse socially, professionally or any other way?
– Would you ever do work or seek employment from my spouse after the mediation is over?
– Does your employer or organization do any work or have any connections to my spouse?
— Can you describe a typical mediation session?
— Do you ever talk separately with either person in a private meeting during mediation? If so, why and how?
— Can mediation sessions be scheduled around our work hours?
— How much do you charge? When is payment expected?
You may conduct these interviews jointly or separately. However, it is important for both spouses to have this information before moving forward.
3. Check References. You are placing a great deal of responsibility in this person’s hands. Ask for a list of references and check them out to hear what other clients had to say.
4. Get it in writing. When a divorce mediator is agreed upon, get the terms and costs written up in a contract. Standard mediator contracts typically stipulate what percent of the service fee each spouse will pay (and when payment is due), the number of sessions covered by the fee, and the exact services the mediator is expected to provide.
If a mediator does not offer a contract, consider it a red flag to move on to the next candidate.