Your choice of a Family Law Mediator can be critical to the success of your mediation. All mediators are different, and using a divorce mediator that’s not a good fit for you and your former partner can be a costly mistake. While switching mediators in the middle of the process is always possible, it will take time to get scheduled with a new one, and there will be additional fees to complete intake sessions again with a new mediator. This type of upheaval and complication can often derail the mediation process entirely.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a family law mediator:
In Person or Virtual Services
Online mediation, offered via video conferencing such as “Zoom” is desired by many clients because it allows them to attend from the privacy of their own location and not have to be in the same room as their ex. This can make for a much more relaxed, less stressful meeting. Virtual services also allow for more flexible scheduling as clients can schedule meetings directly after work, or other commitments rather than having to book off a large portion of their day. Mediation via video conferencing is also an efficient way to review documents in real-time as they’re brought up on the screen in the meetings rather than using static hard copies.
If services are not offered virtually, then be sure to check on driving times, parking, and office hours. If you are in a high conflict situation you can inquire about how the mediator will start the sessions separately. There should be 2 office rooms so that you and your ex can speak individually with the mediator, who can assess if it’s appropriate to have you join together in the same room.
Whether virtual or in-person services, it’s always important to find a mediator that works specifically in your province or state, and is familiar with the laws there.
Not every mediator has experience dealing with specialized matters such as self-employment income, high conflict spouses, income properties, blended families, or relocation. These issues can become extremely complicated, and require an experienced professional to navigate them well. It’s ok to ask a mediator to provide examples of what kind of experience they’ve had with a specific issue, or how they would handle it should it arise. There are mediators that have more of a social work focus that will be better able to assist with matters affecting a parenting plan, but these are not usually the most experienced at complicated financial matters. Conversely, mediators that specialize in complicated finances are not typically experienced in difficult parenting issues. If you have a specialized matter that you believe will be a core issue in mediation it’s critical to find a professional that can handle it properly.
Qualification and Experience
Some legal professionals may market themselves as a “mediator” simply because they will work with two clients at once and direct them towards a settlement, but have not had any formal training in mediation or accreditation with a recognized body. Such professionals may be well-versed in family law but may have little to no training in conflict resolution. Mediators that are accredited through the OAFM (Ontario Association of Family Mediators) have had training in family law and conflict resolution, as well as how to recognize domestic violence and power imbalances. Years of work experience and the number of files worked on will also make a difference to the competence level of any mediator.
Compatibility and Mediation Style
As you’re asking questions of a potential mediator, consider your rapport with them. It’s important to feel that they’re listening to you, addressing any questions or concerns, and responding in a way that makes you feel at ease. Some mediators are more “evaluative” in style and will present solutions and even insert their own opinion into the discussion while more “facilitative” mediators are focused on encouraging communication between you but will rarely insert their own thoughts or views. Depending on your situation you may feel that you one style is better than the other. It’s important to find a good balance that works best for you.
Experienced family law mediators should be able to give you an estimate of fees based on the specifics of your situation. Ask questions about the fee structure, any packages available, payment options, and any additional fees that could come up. Before beginning services you should have a very good idea of how much they will cost so that you can properly plan and budget. Mediation is always voluntary so also ask about the cancellation process and what portion of your fees would be refunded should you exit services.
Scheduling and Timing
Efficient scheduling and timing of meetings can make the difference between successful mediation and one that falters. Resolving conflict becomes a lot harder if you’re stuck on a waiting list or have 6 weeks in between sessions. Ask questions about when services would start and appointment availability. It’s also important to ask about the expected amount of time that a file will take. Some mediators help to create an exhaustive parenting plan that may take several sessions while some don’t cover as much content and schedule only one session. Some mediators require a booked session to review the final draft, while some email it to you and you can book time only if you have questions.
It’s important to find a mediator who is a good fit for both you and your former partner. Sanders Mediation offers no-fee consultation phone calls that will allow you to learn all about the process of mediation, ask any questions you may have, and get a feel for the personality and style of the mediator.