Knowing how to choose a family or divorce mediator is crucial when you need help to navigate the many issues that must be worked out when separating. After all, this may be one of the most important negotiations of your life. The agreements you make with your spouse are the platform upon which you will create your new lives from. Both spouses need to be confident that the mediator helped them achieve a fair, balanced process resulting in fair, durable agreements.
The last thing you want after going through the pain of a divorce is to set yourselves up for future resentment and more conflict because one person feels they got a bad deal.
During my divorce, I made a big mistake. On two separate occasions, I let my lawyers suggest the mediator. Trusting their recommendation, I didn’t take the time to do my own homework. Unfortunately, both mediations were poorly run, cost more than they needed to, and ultimately did not result in agreement.
I came away saying, “my mediations sucked.”
The process was so lacking, I became determined to be someone who offers quality divorce process. I want to make sure others don’t have that experience. I want you to receive a quality mediation process so you have the greatest possible chance to come to agreement and get on with creating a happy future– and for that, you need to know what to look for when choosing a mediator.
Like any profession, there is no one-size-fit-all approach and every family’s situation and needs are unique. It is important however, that BOTH you and your spouse feel comfortable and confident in your choice of family mediator. I’ll let you in on some things you need to evaluate when finding the right person to work with.
What you should look for when choosing a divorce mediator
Qualifications and Certification
Who is the family mediator certified by?
The Family Law Act of BC sets out regulations for family mediators. Unlike civil mediators who are unregulated, family mediators must be certified through Mediate BC or Family Mediation Canada (FMC). To get these certifications, family mediators must meet training and experience requirements and uphold codes of conduct (FMC and Mediate BC).
How many hours of mediation training does the family mediator have and where did they train?
Not all post secondary institutions have equal program requirements. Things vary from province to province and amongst institutions. Also, depending upon a person’s background when they enter the profession of mediation, the number of hours of training they need to become a certified family mediator varies dramatically. A lawyer needs 80 hours of training in mediation, while a non-lawyer will have had hundreds of hours of mediation training.
What designation does the family mediator have?
Depending upon their designation, a mediator may be able to handle all, or only some of your issues. For example, a Family Relations mediator can help you resolve parenting, child support and spousal support issues, but they are not qualified to assist with property and debt division. A Comprehensive Family Mediator can help with the full range of issues.
Background and Experience
What is the family mediator’s background prior to practicing mediation?
Your mediator is there to provide structure for your negotiations with your spouse. They’re impartial. They don’t take sides, they don’t give legal advice and they don’t tell you what to decide. Their job is to help you and your spouse think creatively and resourcefully so that you solve issues in a way that work for your family (rather than having a judge decide for you based strictly on law).
A big part of your mediator being able to inspire you to generate a wide range of possibilities to choose from, when things are at an impasse, is their own ability to collaborate and think creatively. Does your mediator’s previous occupations orient them in a competitive way or a collaborative way? What mindsets and habits of thinking might be deeply ingrained from their professional experiences?
What is the family mediator’s level of experience?
Looking at the number of family mediations a person has conducted is one way of evaluating experience. The more unique family situations a mediator has seen solved, the more they will understand possibilities. Likewise, if a mediator has first hand experience with divorce in their family of origin, they will understand the experience in a deep way.
What is their success rate?
Looking at a mediator’s “success rate” in mediations is something to be cautious of. In mediation, the decisions rest with you and your spouse. You, not the mediator, are responsible for whether or not you reach agreement. So yes, while it’s true that the majority of mediations do result in agreement, how can a mediator claim those agreements reached as their own success?
What style of mediation does the family mediator use?
There are different styles of mediation such as facilitative, evaluative, transformative, narrative etc. Each style has a usefulness of its own. Your mediator should be able to explain the style or combination of styles they use and why it may or may not be useful for your situation.
What you should watch for when working with the mediator
When you choose a mediator and get underway, whether it’s during the intake process, the preparation meetings, or in the thick of mediation sessions, you still need to be a savvy consumer. If you’re not confident in the mediator’s abilities, you can walk away. Mediation is completely voluntary.
Here are some things to ask yourself as you go:
- Proper Preparation – Are they willing to spend at least an hour with you individually to fully explain the mediation process and your options within it? How thorough are they in getting to understand your situation?
- Safety – Do they screen your situation thoroughly for safety concerns? Do they pick up on and address power imbalances? During mediation you will have vulnerable and emotional moments, so it’s important that you can trust this person to maintain a safe environment.
- Process – Do they explain the mediation process well so that you know what’s expected of you and what you can expect? Do they make you aware of your options within the process? For example, points at which it may or may not make sense to have your lawyer in the mediation? Do they make you aware of options and resources in addition to mediation?
- Adaptability – Do they invite any concerns you might have about the process and adjust as needed to ensure a fair discussion? Do they ask you for feedback during the process?
- Presence – Do they demonstrate a professional, positive, calm, and helpful presence even in intense conflict? Are they ultra present and attentive? Do they hear what’s said as well as the meaning behind it? Are they accurately capturing the details of the agreements you’re making?
- Personal – Do they treat you like a person or a “file”? Are they empathetic and “real” with you when talking about your life? What qualities seem to define this mediator?
- Impartial – Do they stay neutral? Do they ask curious questions that reveal what’s important to both of you and why? A mediator is not allowed to take sides (you should never feel pressured to settle), but they are meant to take your aspirations and goals into consideration when helping you generate solutions that will be meaningful for you and your spouse.
- Balance – Do they help you address relationship issues and practice better communication during mediation, or are they overly focused on substantive issues (like asset and debt division)? Are they focused on driving to settlement, or supporting you to come to true resolution? Do they help you see long term and short-term options for your situation? Are the agreements addressing WHAT will happen and HOW it will be carried out in detail?
The big picture
When you choose a mediator who provides you with a quality process, you’ll walk away feeling capable to take the next step and move on with your life. You will have had a safe, effective conversation that allowed you to regulate emotions and focus on solving your issues. You’ll have developed solutions you can both live with.
Two years later, 5 years down the road, after living out those agreements, you won’t be vengeful or resentful after realizing you got a bad deal. This is important because even after you settle, you will likely still have some kind of relationship with your ex-spouse. You may share custody of your children, hang out with the same friends, and bump into each other during errands. In fact, when you co-parent, believe it or not, you’re going to need a better relationship with the other parent than ever.
While a mediator is not a relationship counsellor, they can help facilitate discussions that help clear the air and bring both parties to understanding. There should be space for emotional expression and recognition, and increasing personal awareness. While it may be hard to imagine getting along now, it makes the biggest difference to your family’s future.
Humans are visually wired. When you’re going through a stressful process like divorce, it can be hard to recall conversations or think clearly. Visual communication has an 80% retention rate, meaning that when you see something you’re learning about, like legal information, or your spouse’s thoughts on your kid’s needs, you’ll more easily remember the information if it’s presented in a visual form.
As a visual divorce mediator, I use visual aids to help facilitate a more engaging conversation about your relationship and desired outcome. When we combine visual and oral communication, the retention rate is six times greater than if we’d communicated by speaking alone.
It’s important to me that you understand the impact of your actions and decisions. It’s also important that the mediation process is as efficient as possible without being rushed. Now that you know how to choose a mediator, you can better target your research and find the right person to work with.
Working with me
I set out to raise the bar and redefine quality mediation practice. I am the only certified mediator in British Columbia fully integrating the power of visual communication to capture important parts of your discussions in real-time. Doing so helps minimize misunderstandings. I’m a globally sought after visual practitioner, I’m trained and certified as a mediator, and I’m here passionate and focused on one thing – serving you while you get through the most difficult time of your life.
If you’d like to explore visual divorce mediation or learn more about working with me, contact me now.
Important: This is intended as information only. It does not replace legal advice. In working with a mediator, you will be encouraged to seek independent legal advice.