One Question, Three Lawyers
Dear Splitopia: I want to mediate, but I’ve heard a couple stories about inept mediators or a mediator not protecting one spouse. How do I know if a mediator is any good?
Our Panel Says:
Beth Henson, family lawyer, Denver, Colorado: First, check to see if your state has any credentialing requirements for mediators. If so, ask if your mediator has met those requirements. Second, make sure that your mediator specializes in domestic relations. Family law is a very specialized type of law, and any mediator you use should be very familiar with the law and the court process in your state. Third, it's not unreasonable to ask to chat briefly with the mediator on the phone before you schedule a meeting. Ultimately, you have to feel comfortable with this person, and you can often get a sense of her style, approach and background by talking to her. Please know, however, that it's unlikely that a mediator can provide client references, since mediation is usually a confidential process.
There are often “best of” lists within states/cities that can be a good starting place. You can also review websites for various mediators. You will probably start to see a pattern of certain types of training that many of them have, or organizations to which many belong. This should give you an idea of the generally accepted professional criteria for mediators in your state.
Many mediators are willing to schedule a three-way phone call with both parties to a case (very helpful in ensuring transparency and avoiding a party’s concerns about neutrality). Just like all professions, mediators have different personalities and approaches; a phone call should help you determine which mediator feels like the best fit for your case.
Michael Stutman, family lawyer, New York City: You look for a mediator in much the same way as you would a lawyer, except you can interview a possible mediator with your soon-to-be-former spouse. I think you should look for someone who is in active practice and can demonstrate a current knowledge of the law. Hence a non-lawyer, or a lawyer/judge who has been retired for a while may not be the best choice.
Janice Green, family lawyer, Austin, TX: I would add only a couple things. It still makes sense for each spouse to consult with a family law attorney to find out if there are any red-flag issues in your situation that you need to pay attention to when mediating. Also some states have strict ethical guidelines that prohibit attorneys who serve as mediators from giving giving legal advice to both spouses—meaning that each spouse must consult with his/her own attorney before signing off on a mediated agreement.
About Our Panel:
Beth Henson is a Denver-based attorney who specializes in divorce and 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 year 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.
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
Janice Green is a family law attorney who has been practicing in Austin, TX, for the past 35 years. She is the author of Divorce After 50: Your Guide to the Unique Legal & Financial Challenges (NOLO, 2013). She is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and has been named to Best Lawyers in America, and as a Texas Monthly Super Lawyer. For the past 10 years, she’s focused exclusively on collaborative divorce. Find more at: janicelgreen.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.