Should I 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).
Creative problem solving
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.
Diverse professional & educational 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 Claudia Coulter. “I’ve got nearly 20 years of experience as a school teacher. Teachers have many skills that easily translate to 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 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.”
Non-attorney mediators usually had another career before they became a mediator. Many 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.
Non-lawyer mediators are not trained to think in terms of “win or lose.” That world of ‘winning cases’ is foreign to them. 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. What they teach us in “mediation school” is how to help people make peace. Non-lawyer mediators are often trained in negotiation, the psychology of conflict, the role of religion, and more — all to help resolve conflict. For example, Claudia Coulter learned 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. “They also make us work for free doing the things we’ve learned.
Non-lawyer don’t use legal terms on a regular basis. 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. 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.
Focusing on the mediation process
Non-attorney mediators’ practices are centered on mediation. They aren’t focused on all the paperwork that goes along with divorce. Services like Hello Divorce keep your costs down and your stress levels manageable. (I’d like to say your stress level would be low but you’re going through 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
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.
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.