It can be confusing to distinguish a reasonable price to pay for services such as family mediation services. To begin with, mediation as a field is still very much in its infancy (ok, maybe toddler by now), and there are not hundreds of years to look back on to see how the costs have shifted and increased over the centuries, as you can do with attorneys who are often paid by the hour at very high hourly rates.
When you begin looking for a mediation firm, specifically one to handle your divorce, a couple of things to consider is what are you really comparing?
Comparing Costs of Mediator versus Mediator
You can look at it as comparing the costs of mediators or different mediation firms in your area. This can be useful, but if you compare fees on this basis, you must compare apples to apples (and not apples to mangos).
For example, what is the background of the mediator you are looking to hire? Mediation is not a protected field or monitored via any licensing agency, so there are no education requirements to become a mediator. Therefore, you may find mediators from all different walks of life. This is one of the details that make mediators a creative option when going through conflict because you may be going through a real estate transaction, such as needing a mediator to help. It would likely be a good idea to find a mediator in the real estate field in one way or another. By doing so, you will have someone to help who understands the intricacies of the real estate world and can have meaningful conversations and come up with solid options to help you and your mediation counterpart arrive at win-win solutions.
In the same regard, it makes sense to ensure your mediator for your divorce has a legal background and education. Without knowing all of the moving parts of a divorce, it is challenging to help think outside the box and be creative with options.
What Is Their Primary Focus?
Once you have found that mediator who may have the legal background, next to look at is what do they do with that legal background? Do they spend most of their time litigating in court and only mediate if a case crosses their desk that may request mediation? Or do they spend the majority of their time mediating? Make no mistake; there is a different skill set and mindset required of a mediator than is required as a litigator. Just because a litigating attorney WILL mediate, and knows the law, does not mean they are good mediators. To be a good mediator, you need to have a solid neutral mindset and not fall into the typical contentious battle present in litigated divorces.
A great mediator lives their lives as a peacemaker and does not judge what someone may or may not have done in the past in their marriage. Someone who will take both of you and realize that who you WERE is not who you ARE today. An exceptional mediator can empathize with you both on different levels and understand what has brought you to their table without holding that against either party. A great mediator knows that both of you are
very likely great people who happen to bring the worst out in each other. And who wants nothing but the best for your family and want to make sure you and your children are getting healthier through this process and not digging deeper into despair as you handle the issues that must be resolved to dissolve your marriage.
OK – so now you have found a mediator with a legal background who mediates full time and has a great neutral mindset. What next?
What Additional Qualifications Do They Have?
What other qualifications do they have that may be beneficial to your particular situation? Do you and your spouse have a significant amount of assets, debts, or other financial complexities? If so, then it may be beneficial to find a mediator who also has a financial background. There are CPAs and CFP’s that become mediators later in life. There is also a designation that is specific to divorce termed Certified Divorce Financial Analysts™. This certification is usually shortened to a “CDFA.” This is a year-long course that includes testing to become certified. You may find a mediator that has both a law degree and is also a CDFA™, or you can also work with a mediator and then hire a separate CDFA to assist with your financials. Always ask your mediator if they have the credential or, if not, if they work with professionals that do.
So now, you have covered your bases with the education and background and the mindset. This will likely weed out many of your options. So how do you make the final decision between those remaining?
This is where cost may come in (to get back to the topic of this article). If you have come this far, chances are the handful of professionals you have to choose from will be on the higher end when it comes to cost. The higher cost is in relation to the years of education and experience you will find within the options. There are some things in life that “cheaper” is just not “better.” There are always going to be perfectly appropriate cases for the lower cost services because they are short-term marriage, very few (if any) assets, and fairly straightforward. There is no reason for a straightforward divorce to pay for the higher-cost service (but by all means, make sure you are with a reputable firm). However, when you have significant assets, complex estates, high emotion, debts, tax issues, individually owned small businesses, partnerships, etc., the lower cost, less experienced, less educated professionals are going to cost you a lot more than you will even realize until the process is over and the dust settles. You may not see it today … but someday, it will become very apparent, and you will kick yourself for risking your future to save a few bucks. These highly trained, educated, and experienced professionals have put in the time to know the pitfalls and help you avoid them. They were once inexperienced, and the costs they charged in the early years accounted for that. As the years pile on top of each other and every mistake has been made and lessons have been learned, the cost to avoid those mistakes is embedded into the cost you pay. You are paying for the expertise, not always the specific hours worked.
Next blog, we will look at mediation costs versus litigation. If you have additional questions about our fees, contact West Coast Family Mediation Center. We are happy to provide you with information and a free consultation to see if mediation is right for you!
by: Jennifer Segura