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Finding a Good Family Mediator

Arguably, ending a relationship is one of the most stressful periods of your life. It is never easy, and there is no painless way to accomplish it. Your partner, your children, and other family members experience different stress levels during the process. The key is to make the split less painful. The way you end your relationship determines the amount of your stress, anxiety, and resentment.

Being forced into litigation is almost always a recipe for disaster. The court process inevitably leaves a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. Parties leave court feeling they got less than they deserved. The court’s judgment never seems fair and just for the losing party. That creates a vicious circle of bitterness and resentment, preventing everyone involved from achieving genuine resolution. The vindictive court process can never set the foundation for a successful post-split co-parenting relationship.

On the other hand, mediation helps parents negotiate the terms of their break-up with the help of a neutral third person. Through open communication, people find common ground easier, learning to respect the other side’s point of view. Using sophisticated skills, the mediator facilitates negotiations, making the process informal, non-adversarial, and effortless.

Despite being the most effective dispute resolution method, not every mediation brings positive outcomes. Depending on the mediator, it is possible to come to an impasse that will lead the parties to future litigation. The person you choose to facilitate your negotiation can determine the course of your future by applying different approaches to dispute resolution. Therefore, selecting the right mediator is an endeavor worth your time and effort. The mediator you choose can make a difference between positive post-split relationships and years of expensive and costly court proceedings.

Here are some tips on how to find a good mediator near you.

1. Figure Out What Makes A Good Mediator

Before you start the hiring process, research the characteristics that constitute an effective mediator:

Qualifications. The State of Florida has a rigorous process for certifying Family Mediators. In order to be certified by the Florida State Supreme Court, applicants must complete a 40-hour state approved training. Part of that training includes participating in mock mediations that are evaluated by experienced mediators. Those evaluations are critical to the professional development of mediators. After successfully completing that training, they are required to observe a minimum number of mediations and/or co-mediate with professional mediators. Once they have completed that phase of the process, they must submit their FBI security clearance, transcripts from their highest level of education (higher points are awarded for higher levels of education), an application and proof of completion of their training to the State of Florida. The application is reviewed and, if accepted, they are notified of their certification. Currently, there are approximately 2,700 State Supreme Court Family Mediators in Florida. That qualification is considered a characteristic of an effective mediator who is ethical and well-trained.

Professional background. Some mediators come from a legal professional background – divorce attorneys and retired judges turn to mediation after their judicial careers. But possessing legal education is not a guarantee of good mediation skills. Sometimes attorneys and judges bring a litigation mindset into the mediation. Despite being well-versed in family law, attorneys tend to lean toward one party (losing their neutrality), while former judges often unconsciously impose solutions (taking the decision-making role which is not the function of the mediator). Apart from legal professionals, many social workers and therapists undergo mediation training. Although they can better understand parties from a “people” perspective, they may not have the extensive legal background as an attorney. Keep in mind, when hiring a mediator, you are not looking for an attorney, you want someone who knows how to reach a good compromise.

Experience. While mediation training and professional education are vital, practical experience is an irreplaceable requirement for a good mediator. Years of dealing with complex dispute resolution cases can often compensate lack of professional knowledge and subject-matter expertise. Experience brings compassion and the ability to understand the parties, feeling their needs – a trait no education can build.

Full-time or part-time mediator. For various reasons, some mediators practice mediation as their secondary occupation (attorneys, social workers, etc.). While combining mediation with other jobs is not wrong, it might mean that the mediator does not have a lot of mediation experience under his/her belt. Or it can also mean that the mediator has chosen to work part-time for personal reasons after a career of full-time mediation and has significant experience. It’s important to talk to the person you’re choosing before making a final decision.

Financial knowledge. Although emotional and legal challenges can be burdensome, most break-ups include discussion about finances. Think of marital property division, alimony, and child support. For that reason, you need a mediator who understands the financial aspects of your case. Only professionals with an understanding of the importance of the equitable distribution of assets will be able to help with child support, alimony, your marital home, and your debts. A mediator will be able to let you know when you need to seek assistance from your attorney, CDFA or financial advisor on more complex issues. Mediators do not advise on any legal, financial, or real estate matters.

Case resolution record. The case resolution rate speaks for itself. An unusually successful mediator can have a 90% rate of completed agreements. However, because agreements are dependent on people, it is important to remember that individuals in an emotionally charged state drive that number and it may take several meetings to reach an agreement.

Define Your Goals and Narrow Your Expectations. There are various types of mediations used, but the three most common are Transformative, Evaluative and Facilitative Mediation. In Family Mediation, most often, mediators use Facilitative. While the other types have application in other situations, Facilitative Mediation is the most appropriate for Family Mediation. It empowers the parties to be the decision makers by having the mediator ask probing questions that will encourage positive thinking and movement toward resolution. With this method, the mediator is not making decisions, offering opinions, or exerting conclusions. Asking a mediator if they utilize any method of mediation is a good question during consultation.

2. Search For Local Mediators

After you learn about the qualifications of a good mediator, start your search by looking through the list of local mediators. Check mediation association websites in your area and find their members list. Look at each member and examine their credentials. Next, visit their websites to see their qualifications, record, and success rate. However, be aware that online presentations are not always truthful. Many lawyers and mediators invest in building professional-looking websites, often paying for positive client impressions. Therefore, check online search results by asking someone you know (attorneys or other professionals) about their opinion of your potential pick. The most important thing is the consultation. Do you feel you have rapport with the person? Are you listening to one another? Can you ask questions? Are your questions being answered? If you don’t feel that you’re connecting, it’s not a good match—move on to the next person on your list.

3. Create A Shortlist And Conduct Interviews

The next step is narrowing your search and creating a shortlist. To ensure you choose the best family mediator, you must shorten your list as much as possible. Even if it may seem you have the best candidates, keep narrowing your choice to get to the best of the best. This process will eliminate those mediators whose credentials do not meet the highest standards (about which you learned at the beginning of your search). After creating a shortlist, interview each candidate. Talking to a potential mediator is crucial. Keep your list short and manageable. Don’t let this become an overwhelming task. You will become so stressed; you will walk away from it. You need to get an in-person experience with the people you intend to put in charge of your negotiation efforts. Talking openly about your issues means you will reveal much sensitive personal information. Although each mediator obliges themselves to stay confidential, you must select a person you feel will handle that information with respect and dignity. You can schedule in-person meetings, talk to prospective candidates by telephone, or use an online conference.

4. Consider The Costs

Without a doubt, mediation is a less expensive dispute resolution method compared to the court process. Nevertheless, ask the potential mediator about the costs before hiring them. Resolve any dilemmas regarding the fees to avoid surprises when the process starts. During the interview, ask each candidate about their charging method. Do they charge by the hour or by day? Or perhaps they offer flat-fee pricing? Do they include travel time as well? How about the cost distribution – do you and your spouse split them? Do not hire a mediator before clearing these issues.

5. Select The Mediator That Fits Your Specific Situation

Finally, after going through each step discussed above, decide which mediator answered all your questions regarding their qualifications, training, record, and fees. Think about how they explained the process and whether they were compassionate while listening to your case. Did you feel comfortable sharing your details with them? Based on this, select the mediator that best suits your individual needs with their work approach and mediation philosophy. Do not be afraid to “go with your gut”. If you connected with one person and felt a rapport, that’s fine. Remember, this is a person you will share so much personal information with, so you have to feel safe and comfortable.

Why Choose Carole McKelvey?

Carole McKelvey is a Florida Supreme Court-certified mediator and a certified coach.

As an experienced therapist, Ms. McKelvey understands what a couple and their family members go through. Years of coaching experience made Carole a compassionate negotiator and a master of compromise. She always tells her clients that no one gets everything they want but everyone gets something they want. What you get from a facilitated negotiation is most valuable – an agreement resolving your family dispute that is the foundation of your restructured family.

Ms. McKelvey combines the finest qualities of a therapist with the most sophisticated negotiation skills. Upholding the highest ethical standards, she offers a non-adversarial negotiation environment, increasing the chances for an equitable resolution between you and your partner.

Carole serves her clients in Central Florida (Eustis, Mt. Dora, Ocala, Leesburg, Tavares, and Sorrento).

Please call today at 352-764-7001 to schedule your consultation.


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