Let me start off by saying, “Thank God for lawyers.” People in the legal profession do amazingly complex work and often make it look easy. Am I the only one who’s super grateful for them? Now that you know I don’t hate lawyers, let me tell you why you should consider hiring a divorce mediator who is not an attorney.
The family law structure in this country is super complex. It’s managed to make a tragic situation — the death of a marriage — so complex that it is difficult to navigate without help. Plus, there is potential for conflict during every step of the divorce process. To avoid a potentially contentious courtroom situation, many divorcing couples turn to mediation to work through their issues and come to an agreement on all aspects of their divorce. Mediation is guided by a neutral third party who is trained to help couples resolve disputes. Oftentimes attorneys serve as mediators. While attorneys are well-versed in the law of divorce, they may find it difficult to take off their lawyer hat during mediation, which can sometimes stifle the negotiation process. Instead, a divorcing couple might consider hiring a non-attorney mediator who brings a whole new perspective and life experience to the table. While both attorney mediators and non-attorney mediators are qualified to help navigate the treacherous waters of divorce, there are a number of benefits to hiring a non-attorney mediator (like me).
We are creative problem-solvers.
Because we are not attorneys, we are more open to creative solutions. Having never represented clients in court we’re not going to guess about what a judge will decide. Truth bomb: only the judge knows what the judge will decide. Non-attorney mediators are really good at coming up with creative solutions to challenging problems because our thinking is not limited by the way other cases have been resolved. Some examples of creative solutions include not selling the marital home until the youngest child is in college, not taking a portion of your spouse’s retirement in exchange for a different asset that is more important to you, and even helping you think about how to navigate your post-divorce relationship as co-parents.
We have various professional backgrounds.
There is a wealth of knowledge in the non-attorney mediator pool. Many individuals who are therapists or who have a financial background make good mediators. Their years of experience working with people in varying life situations is a great asset when they decide to become mediators.
Less common is a non-attorney mediator like me. I’ve got nearly 20 years of experience as a school teacher. Teachers have many skills that easily translate into mediation. They have loads of experience talking to irate or worried parents, and they are able to get a group of unruly students to not only pay attention but also learn. In order to do either thing well, they must be super creative or they’ll be eaten alive. Literally. (Ok, not literally; it’ll just feel that way.) Teachers must also help students work through interpersonal conflicts. Most importantly, a good teacher knows the kids well. A teacher who’s been in the business for a long time has seen the harm that a nasty divorce can do to a child. A non-attorney mediator with these skills will keep the best interests of your children top of mind even when you’re too angry to do so.
We have diverse educations.
Non-attorney mediators usually had another career before they became a mediator. Many of us have extensive education. If your non-attorney mediator was also a therapist, financial professional, or teacher, they had years of education, difficult tests to pass, and hours of internships to complete so they could be licensed, certified, or credentialed. On top of that, when they decided to become a mediator, they went back to school. And I don’t mean they bought an online course or took a class at a community college. Those things are great but they won’t make you a mediator. They went on to get another certificate or even an additional master’s degree. For example, I already had a master’s degree in political science before I got a second master’s degree in dispute resolution. That’s nothing to boast about because I’ve still got the loans that came with them. But I valued this profession enough to take it seriously and get the best education I could. I could have saved money and just gotten a certificate in dispute resolution (aka mediation) but I wanted to gain all the knowledge I could. And many of us continue to learn after our formal education or certification is done. For instance, I am constantly going to seminars and workshops and conferences.
We’re not familiar with the adversarial process of court.
We are not trained to think in terms of “win or lose.” Prior to becoming a mediator, success in our careers was not defined by how many cases we won. That world is foreign to us. We have no history of being aligned with any side in a dispute. That’s a benefit for you because since it’s not in our makeup, it’s not something we’re going to fall back on when negotiations get tough.
We’re trained to resolve conflicts.
What they teach us in “mediation school” is how to help people make peace. We are trained in negotiation, the psychology of conflict, the role of religion, and more — all to help us help you. At mediation school, they don’t just give us theory. They fill up our toolboxes with versatile tools that we can pull out any time to help build peace. We learn how to work with people who display a pattern of high-conflict behavior, how to value the role of religion in our clients’ lives and how that impacts their decisions, and even how to listen between the lines and translate what one spouse is saying to the other. In addition, they also make us work for free doing the things we’ve learned. For those of us also working full-time, it can be challenging to take days off work so we can work for free to hone our craft. But that’s what is required to do it right.
Okay, so I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re probably thinking, “That’s great but can’t lawyers do that too?” Of course they can, but do they? Some do, but not all. Let me tell you a quick story. When I first started attending mediation school, I told an acquaintance of mine, who was a lawyer, what I was doing. He told me in jest (but I’m pretty sure he really felt it inside), “What a minute! You can’t be a mediator. That’s what I’m going to do in retirement. You can’t take that job from me.” He continued to make it clear that his legal education was all he needed to be an effective mediator and once he was ready to retire it would be an easy switch. Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case.
We don’t use legalese.
It’s not that we don’t know legal terms, but it’s not in our daily habits to use them. You may find that you’re more comfortable with a non-attorney mediator because they speak a language you understand. It’s one less thing to overwhelm an already overwhelming process. Bonus: you’re in good hands with a mediator who’s also a teacher because they’re used to explaining the same thing five different ways, multiple times a day.
Mediators aren’t allowed to give legal advice.
Go back and read that again. Notice I just said mediators. That’s true for all mediators whether they’re attorneys or not. No mediator is allowed to give legal advice; it’s considered the unauthorized practice of law — which will get a person in big trouble. Non-attorney mediators don’t practice law and aren’t in the habit of giving legal advice. Therefore, we are not going to give you legal advice because it is not our default and we aren’t trained to do it.
We are focused on the mediation process.
Non-attorney mediators’ practices are centered on mediation. We aren’t focused on all the paperwork that goes along with divorce. When you use services like Hello Divorce, it keeps your costs down and your stress levels manageable. (I’d like to say your stress level would be low but you’re going through a divorce so to say that would just be lying.) Hello Divorce takes care of your paperwork and they have lawyers you can consult with to review your mediated agreement before things are finalized. When you come to a non-attorney mediator, you can just focus on the mediation.
We are focused on peacebuilding.
Ok, don’t roll your eyes. No one’s gonna make you list off the wonderful traits of your ex like what happened in the movie Marriage Story. Well, at least I won’t. When I got divorced, I didn’t want to talk about how wonderful my soon-to-be ex was. That’s definitely a hard pass. We want you to settle your divorce in mediation because we know it’s better for your emotional, mental, physical, and financial health. But we also know it’s better for your kids. We want you to pick up some new ways of communicating with each other so that you can actually have a happy life post-divorce without getting into fights about the kids every other week. You don’t have to be best friends but you do have to work together. In mediation, you come to realize that your soon-to-be ex isn’t trying to destroy your relationship with the kids or take all your money (hopefully that’s not the case). It helps to calm tensions and is a wonderful start to your new relationship as co-parents. Sure, we want you to settle your case in mediation, but what we really want is for you to both be good parents and exercise respect and restraint in dealing with one another.
Some of us have flexible hours.
If your non-attorney mediator still has their old job and mediates on the side that might be a huge benefit for you. These mediators may have more availability to mediate on nights and weekends, which means you wouldn’t have to take time off from work to get your divorce done.
No matter whether you pick an attorney-mediator or a non-attorney mediator, make sure you pick someone who respects you and doesn’t make you feel small. A mediator should value you as a client and as a human being. When you and your soon-to-be ex feel comfortable with a particular mediator, go ahead and schedule those mediation sessions so you can get the ball rolling. Mediators, both attorney, and non-attorney, generally are good people and will help you transition from married to divorced in a respectful, gentle way.