Choosing a mediator in a California separation or divorce


Mediation gives you control over the outcome of your separation and/or divorce in California.

You can separate and/or divorce on your terms.*

California family law empowers you to negotiate a settlement tailored by you to suit your needs, abilities, budgets, lifestyles, values and wishes.

This means, among other things, if you choose divorce mediation you:

  • Won’t be at the mercy of an overworked, underpaid stranger
  • Can quickly and economically negotiate your best agreements
  • Might save money with lower legal bills
  • Could avoid an embroiled legal battle
  • Stay in control of your future, family and finances

What’s the catch?

The biggest catch is, your spouse has to agree to participate in mediation.

Mutual agreement is the only way issues are resolved in mediation unless, your mediator is a private judge with authority to resolve disputes and make orders.

Another catch in mediation is, you negotiate deals with your spouse, which can be tough when you want to clobber him/her.

But, given what’s at stake — losing control of your divorce and life — using mediation is, in my opinion, the best way to negotiate marital settlement agreements in California.

I’ve seen some really bad divorces over the last 20 years and I can truthfully tell you the worst of the worst divorces often are settled in mediation.

The key is having a skilled mediator suited to the spouses’ personalities/temperaments, and the issues in their divorce, which are based in-part on, the facts of their marriage.

How do you choose the best mediator?

It takes time, energy and resilience but, the following divorce insider’s information might make the selection process easier.

Anyone can become a mediator. Divorce mediation isn’t a regulated profession. No formal training, experience or study of laws and procedures are required.

Inexperienced mediators often make legal mistakes and leave holes in marital settlement agreements. Trouble often pops up long after mediation and cause problems that hurt and haunt spouses’ for years.

Hiring an experienced family law trial attorney or retired judge to serve as your mediator is wise because California family laws are complex. And you want your mediation to be successful, complete and as satisfactory as possible.

There’s no guarantee an experienced family law trial attorney or retired judge is a skilled mediator. Retired judges sometimes slip into judges’ roles, losing neutrality. Trial attorneys can act like judges, insisting spouses’ prove their cases instead of working together to find common ground.

Skilled mediators are worth their weights in gold, but don’t need to cost as much. Many of the best mediators in San Francisco, Marin and Napa charge $400 hourly. If you don’t need a mediator with specialized knowledge who charges $750 hour, you should find a reasonably priced skilled lawyer.

Mediation often is completed in one day or less. They can be ridiculously long days, but a single day nonetheless. If a mediator suggests mediation will take months or more, the mediator’s motives and methods should be questioned.

Mediation is not therapy, but it can be therapeutic. Hiring a psychologist or social worker to mediate can blur lines and prevent legal issues from being efficiently and effectively resolved. Use caution if a mediator wants to resolve emotional issues in mediation and in order to mediate a marital settlement agreement.

Mediators’ personalities and practices during new client consultations are often indicative of a mediators’ personality and practices in mediation. If you dislike, disrespect or fear a mediator during a consultation or sessions, it isn’t wise to hire the mediator.

Experienced family lawyers know many mediators’ styles, strengths and/or weaknesses. Asking a lawyer to help you find your mediator can make the selection process more efficient and effective.

*If you have minor and/or special needs children and negotiate child custody and support agreements in mediation, the court has the authority to set aside or change agreements in certain instances and until the occurrence of a legally significant event.


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