Often, we get questions from clients about whether they have to have an attorney to do mediation and sometimes they want one and sometimes they tell us that they don’t want to work with attorneys at all. Now I am licensed as an attorney and I always let my clients know so they know my background, but I also emphasize that in working as a mediator I don’t litigate or go to court AT ALL. However, there are many situations in which I want my clients to consult with an attorney or other professional so that they can get the advice that they need.
One of the main tenants of mediation is that I remain a neutral third party. This means that I’m not here to make decisions or tell my clients what to do, and I can’t give legal advice because what is best for one person may not be best for both of them. I am also not a financial advisor, therapist or CPA, and I want to make sure that my clients get the advice they need and work with the professionals necessary to do so. Now this may vary depending on each couples’ situation, but I wanted to share a bit about how and why working with various professionals during mediation can be beneficial.
I advise every one of my clients to have their final settlement agreement reviewed by a consulting attorney so that they can be advised on the agreements they’ve made and ask any questions they may have. Now I also leave it up to each and every client to make the decision for themselves on whether they want to work with a consulting attorney, because I believe that they should maintain control over their decisions in mediation. That being said, if you have concerns over the decisions your making in mediation and want to get some legal advice on what your rights are and what is best for you then having a consulting attorney during and/or after the negotiations can be hugely beneficial.
While both myself and my partner are Certified Divorce Financial Analysts (CDFAs) I am not and will never be a financial planner or advisor and my knowledge of financial issues is enough to know what I don’t know, which is a lot. Often times I find that my clients benefit just as much from meeting with a financial professional as they can from meeting with an attorney. This is because most of the time most of their questions revolve around financial issues, whether it’s figuring out if they’ll have enough money to meet their monthly budget, or trying to figure out how to buy their spouse out of the house or whether to take funds from a retirement account or from other accounts. By working with a financial professional who understands these complex questions clients come to the mediation table more prepared and able and willing to negotiate.
Many days I feel as though I am a therapist and listen and acknowledge that my clients are going through a very difficult time in their lives and emotions will come into play, however unlike my Mom I’m not trained as a therapist. While I am trained in conflict resolution and various aspects of communication there are times when a therapist is necessary for either one or both parties as well as for the children. I am a big advocate for therapists being involved whether it’s to work on co-parenting skills or just to support you in moving forward with your post-divorce life.
Taxes are complicated and while our CDFA training has taught me more than I ever knew about taxes and I’ve become fairly well versed in understanding tax returns, your CPA knows far more about taxes then we ever well. Tax issues come into play when it has to do with spousal support, filing status and property division. While we can start the conversation in mediation, I advise my clients to talk with their current CPA or provide a referral for someone new who can work with them to look at these tax ramifications.
Please contact West Coast Family Mediation Center if you’re looking for a referral for any of these or other professionals.
by: Amanda Singer