Do I Need an Attorney for Divorce Mediation?

California Divorce Lawyer Handing Out Divorce Documents to a Man and Woman

Typically, there are three processes by which a couple can get divorced in California: litigation (court room style), collaborative/cooperative, and mediation.

Divorce mediation is an out-of-court process which typically saves a divorcing couple time and emotional and financial resources.  Divorce mediation is not sub-par to a litigated (courtroom style) divorce but, instead, can serve as an excellent means for resolution to a marital dissolution or legal separation.

If you and your spouse are considering or have decided upon private mediation as the method by which you would like to get divorced, it is time to look for the right professional team.  There are two main ways an experienced family law attorney can guide you through the mediation process: as your neutral mediator or as your consulting attorney.

Using a lawyer as your divorce mediator

Currently, California does not require that a mediator in a family law dispute be a licensed divorce lawyer.  However, choosing an unqualified and/or inexperienced mediator can have serious consequences.  In a California divorce, the financial and familial stakes are simply too high.

Most divorce professionals strongly encourage couples to find a mediator who is also an experienced family law attorney.  While your mediator must serve in a neutral capacity and not provide legal advice to either party, your mediator does have the ability to educate you on how a court would likely decide the facts of your case.  Additionally, your mediator can help facilitate various settlement proposals.  To be protected, a thorough understanding of California family law is a necessary element in achieving a successful mediation.

Another factor to consider is the mediation experience and training an attorney has received.  Some family law attorneys will advertise themselves as “mediators,” but do not have the education or expertise to effectively facilitate a mediation.  Yes, your mediator should be able to educate you on the divorce law (without giving legal advice), however, the ability to encourage and foster conflict resolution is also important, as well as have experience with a range of settlement options.

Using a consulting lawyer in your divorce mediation

Many divorce mediators encourage each party to retain an independent, consulting divorce attorney to review their settlement. Prior to finalizing the divorce.  Some couples choose to hire separate lawyers to consult with each spouse throughout the mediation process.  Since the divorce mediator serves in a neutral capacity, it is wise for the parties to hire their own attorney to receive specific legal advice in conjunction with mediation.

Your consulting attorney can help explain the long-term impact various settlement proposals will have.  They can also help you to advocate for your rights, a task outside of the scope of the mediator’s duties.  Hiring a consulting attorney during divorce mediation is typically less expensive than hiring an attorney for litigation and may save you untold costs in the future.

What to look for in a divorce mediator

Here are some important factors to keep in mind when choosing a divorce mediator:

  • Experience with similar cases – especially in financially complex, or high-asset divorces
  • Training and continued education – both in the field of family law and in alternative dispute resolution
  • A personality that fits for both spouses – neither party should feel that the mediator is “siding” with them; neutrality is key
  • The ability to propose creative settlements and “think outside the box”
  • Professional resources should you need to add experts to your mediation team – some divorce mediations require bringing in a financial and/or child custody expert
  • A support staff who can fill out all the necessary paperwork and file forms required by the courts

Guidance on Divorce Mediation from a Southern California Divorce Law Firm

If you are considering divorce mediation, finding an attorney who specializes in mediation is critical.  If you would like to learn how our office can provide guidance on any California family law issues you are facing in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at 805-777-7740.  Don’t wait to start the next chapter of your life.