Tips for choosing a mediator for your California Legal separation or divorce

California family law empowers you to mediate a settlement tailored 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
  • May quickly and economically negotiate your best agreements
  • Could save money with lower legal bills
  • Might avoid a bitter legal battle
  • Stay somewhat in control of your future, family and finances

But there’s a catch or two.

First, your spouse must agree to participate in divorce mediation, which is a voluntary process except when court mandated.

Second, divorce mediation is only successful if you and your spouse reach mutually acceptable agreements.

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

The key is choosing a mediator who is skilled and best suited to the dynamics of your relationship and your personalities.

How do you choose the best mediator for your case?

It takes time, energy and resilience but, the following tips may make your selection process easier.

Be weary of mediators who are not very experienced family law attorneys. Anyone can become a mediator. Divorce mediation isn’t a regulated profession. No formal training, experience or study of laws and procedures are required. Proceed with caution.

If a mediator is vague or unable to explain complex legal issues, move on. 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.

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.

If you don’t need a mediator with specialized knowledge who charges $750 hour, you should find a reasonably priced skilled lawyer. 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 a mediator suggests mediation will take months or more, the mediator’s motives and methods should be questioned. Mediation often is completed in one day or less. They can be ridiculously long days, but a single day nonetheless.

Use caution if a mediator wants to resolve emotional issues in mediation and in order to mediate a marital settlement agreement. 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.

If you dislike, disrespect or fear a mediator during a consultation or the first few mediation sessions, don’t hire and consider firing the mediator. Mediators’ personalities and practices during new client consultations are often indicative of the personality and practices you’ll see in mediation.

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

If you would like my help choosing a mediator who is best suited to your needs, please complete the form below to inquire about my California divorce consulting sessions. My CCOO Laura will discretely contact you by telephone or email, as you indicate on the form.

*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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