Eleven years ago, I traded in my fancy shmancy car for a used Honda Accord. It wasn’t just a symbolic act; I knew I was going to need the money I would save on car payments. You see, I had just made the biggest decision of my professional life. I had decided to become a full-time mediator and give up my high-paying divorce lawyer gig at an established law firm. No more swanky office with views of the city, I was on the ground floor, starting from scratch. After years of arguing for one side, I decided I valued helping families rather than splitting them apart. (Green Acres? Rollin’ on the River? funny, but true!)
Being a divorce attorney for over 20 years, I knew this would be a shock to the system. Going through countless litigated divorces as a lawyer lets you see the good and the bad. I also went through my own divorce. That was a lesson in itself. I was fortunate that the lesson was on the “what works” side of things, and not the other.
My experience showed me that divorce could be unduly difficult to deal with–the stress and the physical toll. Seemingly nice people are put into bad situations where they are forced to fight for their property, and sometimes their children. It’s not a nice thing to see. I wanted to bring people together to talk things out, in a civilized way, with open lines of communication.
Mediation was the only way. I had to make the change. Whenever you are faced with divorce or any other aspect of family law, including child custody, child support, cohabitiation, domestic partnerships, etc, your best option is mediation.
Even though it may look self-interested, I don’t just say that because I am now a full-time mediator, I say that from the heart. Ask any mediator: we all love what we do. And we can all tell you a compelling story of why we gave up big bucks litigation to help people resolve their conflicts.
If you’re unclear on how it works, here’s a quick look:
During a typical mediation session, you and your spouse will meet with a neutral professional to settle your case. This professional is often a lawyer or a therapist trained in family mediation. They could even be both. It’s their job to get both sides to come to an agreement. When I say a “typical mediation session” it’s actually a misnomer, because there are no typical sessions–you are in control. If you want to talk about dividing up your coin collections or about the weather, the mediator is there for you, not the other way around.
Mediators will often give a free mediation consultation or equivalent information session. You should always be confident that your mediator will meet your needs and expectations. Divorce is intimate and so is the settlement process. You need to be able to feel comfortable talking about sensitive topics with your mediator. Make sure you feel you can have a good rapport with them. Shop around.
Though most divorce mediators’ goal is to facilitate communication, styles can vary. Will they make appropriate suggestions when necessary? Tell you about the law? Give examples? Create worksheets or checklists? Give notes? Write down agreements? Handle court paperwork for you? Make sure you stay on task? Time your sessions? Help you brainstorm different ways of handling a problem? Are they open to doing anything you ask?
These are important stylistic choices to consider. Before you choose your mediator, ask them how they handle any or all of these examples and more.
At Peace Talks Mediation, we make sure that we’re all on the same page from the get-go. An agenda outlines what we need to accomplish, what decisions must be made by the end of our sessions. The important thing is that we all contribute to this outline. The client gets to decide what they want to focus on, what issues are most pressing for them. After all, they know each other better than we do.
We get some unusual requests, ranging from dividing DVD collections to brainstorming different ways to break the news to in-laws. Nothing is off-limits, too big or too small.
As a working Family Mediation firm located in Los Angeles, we certainly have best practices that we know we have to live up to, but as for how each session goes, that is completely up to the client.
If you’re unsure about whether you want to mediate your divorce, you should also keep in mind that Mediation is over 90% cheaper than going to court and hiring attorneys. It’s true. Mediation, with it’s open communication, lacks the contentiousness and “he said/she said” theatrics of the courtroom. It alleviates that burden and creates an atmosphere of “we’re in this together.”
That’s not to say Mediation isn’t difficult. Talking about these very delicate and intimate subjects is hard. Especially with a mediator you may have only met a couple of times prior. We understand and are here to work with you to make it easier. From my experience, Mediation is the best way to minimize the destructive toll a divorce can have on a family.
If you live in Los Angeles, call Peace Talks for a free appointment. If you don’t live in LA, you can search Mediate.com for a mediator in your area.