What Does a Divorce Mediator Do?

July 10, 2024 O'Connor Family Law Divorce

Divorce can be an extremely challenging period in life. Even the most amicable divorce requires involvement with a legal system that can seem designed to cause confusion. If you’re here, you may be looking at a number of life changes, each with their own set of questions- How does divorce affect my taxes? What if my ex is alienating my children from me? What type of divorce is right for me? We can’t tackle all of these issues in one article (but you can certainly read more about each of those topics by clicking the links above), so today we’re going to be focusing in on mediation. If you’re looking for more information on the mediation process, you might want to check out our FREE Mediation E-Book which breaks down what you can expect in divorce mediation and how to effectively prepare for the process with a sample mediation checklist and timeline. In this post, we’re diving into the role of the mediator: what they do, how to choose a mediator, and key questions you should know the answers to before heading into your first mediation session.

Your Mediator Matters- Here’s Why

Because mediation is a more flexible divorce option than trial litigation or more contested types of divorce, your mediation process might look different depending on a number of factors. A large part of that difference will come down to who you choose as your divorce mediator. The primary goal of a divorce mediator is to focus your separation negotiations and ensure that proposed solutions are in alignment with Massachusetts divorce laws. Knowing what to look for in a divorce mediator is essential. If you don’t know how to choose a good mediator, you could find yourself with holes in the agreement that require a divorce or custody modification.

What Does a Massachusetts Divorce Mediator Do?

So, what exactly does a divorce mediator do? A divorce mediator facilitates negotiations and offers information on how Massachusetts divorce laws may affect the separating couple’s divorce agreement. Mediators can advise the couple on whether certain solutions in a separation agreement are likely to be accepted by a judge and suggest ways to revise them if they are not in alignment with state laws. A good divorce mediator should have a diverse set of skills in both the legal and conflict resolution spheres. Remember, the primary goals of a mediator are to help the couple communicate effectively, negotiate terms amicably, and come to mutually acceptable solutions without the need for a contentious court battle.

Here’s a breakdown of what a divorce mediator typically does:

Neutral Facilitation: The mediator acts as a neutral third party, guiding the conversation without taking sides. A mediator does not act on the interests of any one side. This is a key difference between an attorney facilitating the mediation process and an attorney acting as one spouse’s advocate. Mediation sessions are confidential, and mediators are bound to keep the discussions private. This confidentiality encourages open and honest communication between the parties.

Negotiation Focus: The mediator helps the couple identify and list all the issues that need to be resolved. These issues often include division of property, child custody and support, spousal support, and any other relevant matters. They strive to ensure that the negotiations are balanced and fair to prevent power imbalances and ensure that both parties have an equal say in the discussions.

Conflict Resolution: The mediator ensures that both parties communicate effectively and respectfully. They help clarify issues, ask pertinent questions, and ensure that each party has the opportunity to express their needs and concerns. This helps to reduce any confusion that one or both parties might have and create a more open line of communication between separating spouses. A skilled mediator is able to turn contentious arguments into productive conversations with specific goals in mind. While parties may not agree on every issue, it should be clear what issue is being discussed as well as each party’s preferred resolution.

Provide Legal Information: While mediators do not provide legal advice, they can provide general information about the legal process, the types of issues that need to be resolved, and potential solutions that have worked for other couples in similar situations. The mediator guides the negotiation process, helping the couple brainstorm options and solutions for each issue. They help the parties evaluate the pros and cons of different solutions and facilitate a mutually agreeable compromise.

Agreement Drafting: Once an agreement is reached, a mediating attorney can help draft the terms of the settlement into a formal agreement. This agreement can then be reviewed by the parties (and their respective attorneys, if applicable) before being submitted to the court for final approval.

Because mediation keeps decision power with the couple, it can allow for more creative and flexible solutions than those that a judge who is less familiar with a couple’s life might order. Many great mediators encourage parties to think outside the box to reach agreements that best fit their unique circumstances.

Questions to Ask A Mediator When Divorcing

Because every mediator is different, you will want to get an idea of how mediators run their sessions and help you navigate the process before choosing a mediator. You may want to collaborate with your soon-to-be-ex to find a mediator that makes you both feel comfortable. Whether that means speaking with the mediator together prior to your sessions or sharing a list of mediators that you are both interested in speaking to and narrowing that list down together. Perhaps each of you chooses 3-5 mediators that you would like to work with and from that combined list, you both determine which mediator best fits your needs. Here are some questions you might want to ask to learn more about your mediator’s experience and mediation style:

  • Are you a licensed attorney in Massachusetts (seems like a silly question but it is important if you want to ensure that your agreement will be in alignment with MA state laws so that it has the best possible chance of being accepted by a judge)?
  • Describe your divorce mediation experience to me. Roughly how many divorces have you mediated in Massachusetts (or wherever your case is based)? Have you received additional training or continuing education in mediation specifically?
  • What is your divorce mediation style? How do you typically structure your mediation sessions?
  • What is your fee structure? Do you charge on a retainer, hourly, etc?
  • When would we begin mediation? How often would sessions take place?
  • What is your success rate in helping couples reach agreements?
  • How do you refocus a conversation that is turning into an argument or getting out of hand?
  • How would you handle an impasse on certain issues such as custody, asset division, or child support?
  • Are you comfortable with mediating high-conflict or high-asset divorce cases?
  • How do you ensure that the power dynamics in the mediation room are balanced?
  • Can you accommodate special considerations that we may have such as meeting around our work schedules or childcare availability?
  • What do you anticipate the biggest obstacles being in our mediation?

Of course, these questions are far from one-size-fits-all and you’ll definitely want to think about any special circumstances or additional questions that you want to ask your mediator. At the end of the day, a mediator is there to help you and your spouse reach an agreement so it is important that you feel safe sharing your concerns with them both before and throughout the mediation process.

Get a Team That Gets It

Looking for a Massachusetts divorce mediator? Our team of experienced mediators is here to help you navigate the mediation process as painlessly as possible.

Every single one of our attorney mediators has personal or familial experience with family law. We get it because we’ve been in your shoes, and that’s why we’re so passionate about helping you find your brighter future.

To learn more about how we can help, contact us to schedule a free case evaluation with a member of our team.