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If you have decided to get divorced, you need a mediator who is both experienced and knowledgeable. There are 7 key factors that you need to look for when choosing your divorce mediator:
- FREE QUESTION & ANSWER CONSULTATIONS. You need an opportunity to get to know your mediator, and your mediator’s settlement style, before you hire them. At Graine Mediation, I always talk with both spouses, individually, for at least 15 minutes before we start working together. These consultations are free.
- EXPERIENCE. You need your mediator to have the type of knowledge that only comes with years of experience. Your mediator needs to be able to provide you and your spouse with as many options as possible to help out when you get stuck. Robin Graine has over 20 years of experience in the divorce business and has been focused exclusively on divorce mediation since 2009.
- FOCUS ON SETTLEMENT (NOT THERAPY). Once you get to the divorce mediator's office, the time for couple’s therapy is over. Many mediators do not understand this. Instead, they spend your mediation time and dollars going over the marital problems that got you into divorce mediation in the first place. Don’t let that happen. At Graine Mediation, we focus on only those issues that are necessary for the settlement of your divorce case. That saves you time, emotional turmoil, and a lot of money.
- KNOWLEDGE. Your mediator must have the knowledge and background to provide a clear view of how things work in the courthouse. They should know how cases with similar fact patterns are determined, both in court and in a typical settlement situation. Robin Graine is a former divorce attorney, with a focus on financially sophisticated litigation. Robin is also a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, a rigorous program of study and examinations with a robust continuing educational component. She keeps up-to-date with divorce law, tax and financial changes that affect her clients, and how courts tend to decide cases when the law allows for judicial discretion.
- FINANCIAL & CHILD ADVOCACY EXPERIENCE. Many mediators lack financial knowledge and an understanding of child development and advocacy. These might seem like matters at the opposite ends of the spectrum, but a mediator with years of experience should have a comfort level and an expertise in both. If your mediator seems shaky in either area, find a new mediator. Robin Graine has both. She is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and she spent years, in the Chicago court system, as a children’s advocacy attorney and a judicially appointed hearing officer.
ATTORNEY INVOLVEMENT IN MEDIATION.You need to know if your mediator requires that you have attorney representation. Though most mediators are required by the State to tell that you should be represented by a lawyer (and Virginia is no exception), that is not the same as the State saying you must be represented by an attorney. If your mediator tells you that you must have a lawyer to mediate, your next step is to ask them why they have such a policy. Determine if this suits your needs - and your wallet - and then decide if you want to go that route.
Your questions will be answered and you will be educated about the law and finance. Most of my clients are comfortable, just from participating in their mediation sessions, that they have learned enough about their rights, the law, the tax implications, the finances, and how various custody arrangements might affect their children, to confidently proceed to settlement without lawyering-up. However, if they want the advice of an attorney, that is never discouraged.
But my lawyer told me I "have to be represented" ... It is common in many places (Virginia included) for a divorcing spouse to be advised, by a lawyer, that they need to be represented by an attorney for mediation to work. That is usually not the truth. However, if you do choose this style of mediation (two lawyers and one mediator), you will want to get out your big wallet. It will be very expensive.
Saving money in your divorce does not mean that you will be sacrificing a fair settlement. At Graine Mediation, we do not require that you have an attorney. It is always recommended that you run your settlement terms by an attorney; but that is entirely up to you. Settling your case with a mediator, who does not require that you have a lawyer, will save you and your family many thousands of dollars that you could probably put to better use for your kids or yourselves.
Are certain cases inappropriate for mediation? There are certain cases where mediating without an attorney – or mediating at all – is not well-suited. In my experience, the only two situations where you need an attorney to manage your case are: (1) when there is a reasonable suspicion that one of the spouses is hiding assets, and (2) where there is a history of physical violence. Aside from that, mediating usually does a great job for divorcing spouses even when they leave their attorneys out of it.
- DRAFTING OF SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT. It is best if your mediator is also an attorney who has the skills to draft a settlement agreement that will be fully enforceable in a court of law. It is usually preferred that your mediator, not one of your attorneys, draft the settlement agreement. Why is that? Because you don’t want anything to get lost in translation and you don't want to run the risk of an attorney slipping something in the settlement agreement that is more favorable to their client (and less favorable to you). At Graine Mediation, Robin Graine writes the settlement agreements. They are detailed, contain exactly what you agreed to in our mediations sessions, and are in a format which is ready for filing-with the court.
Choosing the right mediator can mean the difference between your case dragging on for great lengths of time, without a lot of satisfaction, versus getting quick and mutually agreeable results through a fair and inexpensive settlement process.
Screen your mediator carefully. Ask how they move their clients through conflict resolution and what their problem-solving techniques consist of. Ask them what their track record is -- do they settle most of their cases or are they just a pass through to the lawyers? Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions and test their knowledge. Be aware of your mediator’s temperament and style.
When choosing your divorce mediator, hire someone that you feel you can trust. Your mediator will be helping you to make some of the most important decisions of your life. Get the right one.