Now that you decided mediation is probably the right process for your divorce, should you start looking for a divorce lawyer who mediates? No, you don’t have to—your mediator does not have to be a divorce lawyer and as such may not even be the best fit for the job.
A divorce mediator needs to be skilled, experienced, and knowledgeable in divorce negotiation, finance, and state laws and procedures. Other ideal qualities include being adaptable, patient, and persistent. None of these qualities requires a law degree nor are divorce lawyers necessarily trained in anything other than laws and procedures. Many lawyers, too, are adversarial by nature or because of their law-school training or courtroom experiences. Unfortunately, this may lead them to unwittingly foster a hostile environment, undermining the cooperative and problem-solving nature of mediation.
The best divorce mediators have been professionally trained in mediation, are fully neutral, know the issues and surrounding laws and procedures, and are also experts in complex financial matters surrounding the divorce. Many today are choosing a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®) to mediate their divorce, recognizing that a CDFA® has unique qualities and skills to develop optimal and creative settlements that address everyone’s best long-term interests.
Legal Documents and Attorney Review
Now, divorce does require legal documents and filings and you may want an attorney or other legal professional to do that for you. Alternatively, once you have your signed Memorandum of Understanding from your mediator, you can easily create your own documents. This can be accomplished with many inexpensive online services or by just relying on the information and forms provided on county websites.
Some individuals or couples, even if they use a divorce mediator who is also a lawyer, will want to involve attorneys. This might be to have their own attorney(s) counsel them during the mediation process and/or have them review the Memorandum of Understanding and Settlement Agreement once the mediation has been completed. It’s always wise to take this extra step and I encourage my clients to do so. In my experience, though, most do not.
When Not to Mediate
We recognize, of course, that mediation is not the best choice for every divorce and that you may need to involve the court’s oversight (with or without a divorce lawyer). Mediation may not be the right path, for example, when there’s been or is the threat of violence in the relationship or when one of you is just not willing to take into account the other person’s interests.
If you’re seriously thinking mediation might be the best path for you and your spouse, take time to assess your needs and what skill-set, training, and qualities would best serve you. Talk to a few potential mediators and choose one that you and your spouse feel most comfortable with. You only get to do this divorce once and it could have long-term implications for your (and possibly your children’s) emotional and financial health.
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