In choosing a mediator, the main concerns are relevant knowledge and experience.
Most divorce mediators are attorneys or therapists. The benefit of an attorney-mediator is the knowledge of the law and the ability to prepare legal agreements. Since the final document produced in divorce mediation gets filed with the court, it makes sense to have this prepared by an attorney-mediator. The benefit of a mediator with mental health training is that communication skills can be emphasized to help overcome emotional impasses. Also, mental health professionals have knowledge of child development and the needs of the children in divorce. Those who specialize in divorce have taken specific training as divorce mediators.
Experience may be the most important factor, and most geographic areas have some very experienced mediators. A list may be available in your phone book, or go online to www.acrnet.org.The more mediations the person has provided, generally the more helpful they can be. Ask your mediator if he or she has done 10 or more mediations.
An experienced mediator should be able to acknowledge emotions, while helping the parties focus on decision-making. An experienced attorney-mediator will provide legal information, but not pressure the parties into blindly using legal standards when you are allowed to make your own agreements.
Cost is generally not the most important consideration, because a good mediator may cost a lot in the short run but save a lot by helping the parties stay out of court. Studies have shown the total cost generally ranges between $2,000 and $5,000, which is much less than an adversarial divorce in court.
Willam Eddy, LCSW, Esq., is a Senior Family Mediator for National Conflict Resolution Center, located in San Diego.