What to Know Before Working With a Mediator

Young girl plants a kiss on her mother's cheek while being held

Setting a divorce is a complicated matter, and couples often enlist outside resources to help resolve outstanding issues. One such source that many couples turn to is mediation.

In mediation, the divorcing parties work with a mediator to talk about and come to decisions about whatever issues need discussing. Working with a mediator can be an excellent option for divorcing couples who want help in settling disputes. However, it's vital that parents in this situation have at least some ability to come together and communicate effectively during the mediation process. When compared to litigation, it can also be a much more affordable option that leaves both parties more satisfied with the results.

While both parties may still have their respective attorneys, the role of a mediator is to act as a neutral third-party. The mediator will work directly with both parties to discuss possible outcomes to help them reach agreements on issues they cannot resolve themselves.

Hiring a mediator should be a process that takes both care and thought. You'll want to be comfortable with the person whom you choose to hire and let into your personal matters. Here are a few things you'll consider to know before working with a mediator.

Are You a Good Candidate for Mediation?

Before you start your search for a mediator, you should examine whether you and your co-parent are good candidates for mediation. This process can work very well for some, while it can prove to be unhelpful for others. It much depends on your situation.

Good candidates for mediation are co-parents who have both accepted the end of their relationship and wish to move forward. Also, co-parents should be honest with one another and be prepared to work together to finalize the decisions they need to make. 

Co-parents who likely aren't good candidates for mediation are those who are not being honest with each other, particularly when it comes to crucial matters like finances. Settling financial issues in a divorce can be complicated. If one individual is not forthcoming with information like assets and debts, then more significant intervention may be required. 

Also, co-parents with a history of domestic violence or abuse are not likely to be great candidates for mediation. It can be hard for a mediator to determine, whether the agreements that co-parents are reaching favor both sides or if one parent is agreeing to things out of fear of the abuser. When it comes to the arrangements that directly impact the children, it may be best in this situation to bring your case to court. There, a judge will determine what is in the best interests of the children as they establish a parenting arrangement.

Traits to Look For in a Mediator

A mediator is there to help support you and your co-parent in reaching agreements. As such, there are certain traits that a mediator should have to handle the role they must play effectively. 

A good mediator should be an excellent listener. They should do their absolute best to understand both sides of the story. This means they will often ask questions to understand better where you're coming from. 

Mediators should also have the ability to summarize what each of you is telling them. Instead of focusing on every single detail, your mediator should be able to outline the significant points of importance within your story and the emotions behind it. They should be able to recap your story using language that is not loaded with emotion. This may help you and your co-parent see the story from a different perspective.

Your mediator should be empathetic towards both you and your co-parent, but they should never take sides. They should offer both of you an equal chance to lay out your stories and desired outcomes. A good mediator should help you and your co-parent come to positive resolutions on your own, not tell you what they think the outcome should be. 

Choosing a Mediator 

The mediation process will be must less formal than a courtroom setting. You'll be in a space that allows for open discussion rather than forces you to follow strict rules of conduct. For this reason, you'll want to work with a mediator whom you feel comfortable to be around.

Pick a Mediator Who Makes You Feel Comfortable

When you first speak with a mediator, think about how the conversation went. What did you like about what your mediator had to say? Did they make you feel comfortable? Be honest with yourself as you analyze your initial conversation with a mediator. Settling for the wrong person can leave you feeling regret or frustration later on.

Your mediator should be upfront about costs. Typically, mediators should charge by the hour instead of a retainer. You should be able to meet with a mediator to get a feel for what they're like. If you decide that you do not wish to work with them after that initial meeting, you shouldn't be locked into anything.

You should also know what else they may charge you for such as note-taking. Be direct about wanting to know all the costs that may be involved before you get started. Your mediator should be happy to provide all the details you need to know. 

Seek Someone Who Can Provide Structure to Your Sessions

While mediation sessions are more informal, your mediator should be skilled at keeping your sessions as orderly as possible. It's essential that both sides get an equal chance to explain their stories relating to each issue. Your mediator should act as your referee to ensure that this happens.

Your mediator should set some rules that everyone must follow during the session, such as no talking over each other and no badmouthing each other during meetings. A mediator's ground rules will help structure your sessions in such a way that allows you to stay focused without veering off into unrelated and unproductive topics. 

Are You Interested in Collaborative Practice?

Some mediators specialize in collaborative practice, a strategy for setting divorces outside of the courtroom. In a collaborative divorce, both parties have their respective attorneys, and typically, a mediator is involved in assisting everyone in reaching agreements. 

Collaborative practice is similar to traditional mediation in that the entire process is handled outside of the traditional litigation process. It is different in that attorneys are present as well as potentially other experts such as financial professionals or mental health experts. 

Collaborative practice is an excellent option for those who are interested in a process similar to mediation but would like to have the support of legal representation with them throughout the process. However, mediation could be a better option if you're looking for more control over the process and lower costs. As you meet with attorneys and/or mediators, ask questions about their involvements in collaborative practice. They may be able to offer insights that you haven't yet considered.

Mediation is an excellent strategy for settling the agreements of a divorce if you and your co-parent are genuinely willing to commit to the process.