One Question, Three Lawyers
Dear Splitopia: I’ve read that if we use a mediator who isn’t a lawyer, we should have a lawyer review our agreement. Is this true? And how do I find a lawyer who will look over the agreement our mediator wrote?
Our Panel Says:
Michael Stutman, family lawyer, New York City: Call them up and ask. Some lawyers will do a “one off” involvement, others don’t.
Naomi Cahn, law professor, George Washington University: Lawyers must comply with their state’s code of ethics. Most states do permit a lawyer to serve as a neutral third party, but also require that the lawyer inform the parties, if they are not represented, that the lawyer is not representing them. The lawyer might also then explain the difference between the role of a neutral third party and a client advocate.
Beth Henson, family lawyer, Denver, Colorado: In my opinion, it's always a good idea to have an attorney review your agreement on your behalf before you sign it so that you feel you're making an informed decision. This is true even if your mediator is an attorney; an attorney-mediator must remain neutral, and you want someone to review your agreement who is looking out for your specific interests. Remember, though, that ultimately it is your life (and potentially your ability to co-parent) that is affected by the agreement. If the attorney is pushing you to change the terms, you have every right to decline that advice if you feel that the overall agreement is best for you, your children and the future relationship that you will have with your former spouse.
About our Panel:
Michael Stutman has more than 30 years of family law experience, handling both settlements and court trials. Michael is immediate past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, New York Chapter. He is also a Fellow of the Academy and serves on its National Board of Governors. Michael is also the author of Divorce in New York: The Legal Process, Your Rights, and What to Expect (Addicus, 2013). You can contact him at: Michael@sasllaw.com
Naomi Cahn is the Harold H. Greene Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School. She is the co-author, along with law professor June Carbone, of Marriage Markets: How Inequality Is Remaking the American Family (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture (Oxford University Press, 2010) as well as the leading family law textbook Contemporary Family Law. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New Yorker. Find more at: law.gwu.edu.
Beth Henson is a Denver-based attorney who specializes in divorce and other family law mediation. She has been listed in the Best Lawyers in America every year since 2007, and was that publication's 2016 Denver Family Law Mediation "Lawyer of the Year." She has also been selected as a Colorado Super Lawyer every years since 2009. She speaks at many family law seminars and conferences, and has contributed to several Colorado domestic relations laws. From 2013-2015, she was the supervising attorney for the University of Denver's Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families. Find more at: Hensonmediation.com.
And now, some legalese:
The information in this blog post is provided for general purposes only. It may not reflect the current law in your county and doesn’t replace legal advice. This post is not intended to be a substitute for legal counsel. No attorney-client relationship has been established by reading the post.