How to Pick a Divorce Mediator in Arizona
How to Choose a Divorce Mediator in Arizona
One thing makes the difference between a mediation and a pre-divorce meeting with your spouse that quickly becomes a yelling contest? The difference is the mediator. Your mediator is the key to your mediation success; his or her training and experience or lack of it can make or break the negotiations. A good mediator knows how to get spouses communicating and working toward compromise. He gives each a chance to speak without interruption, asks for explanations, and questions ambiguous statements to keep things clear.
Good mediators also give you and your spouse information about how divorce works in Arizona, and how the judge might view the issues. They may also offer alternatives for resolving problems. So if you are going to mediation, you need a good mediator. How can you find one?
The state of Arizona doesn’t require that mediators be certified to practice in the state, nor does Arizona law set out any background requirements, educational requirements or necessary experience for mediators. What that means is that anyone can become a mediator in Arizona. Mediators come from many different backgrounds and offer different levels of service. This makes it essential that you check the education and experience of a potential mediator and find out the approach he or she uses in mediation before enlisting them to help you and your spouse negotiate a divorce agreement.
Mediation is part of the legal process, but mediators don’t have to be attorneys. Those that are not attorneys must get the legal document preparation certification required by Arizona Supreme Court Rule 31 before they can charge private clients for services. And anyone working in the courts as a mediator must comply with court requirements, often 20 hours of coursework. Although some mediators work with the court system and provide services free to divorcing couples, private mediators charge for their services, usually by the hour. Their hourly rates are not regulated by state law either, so you might find a wide range of rates. Here are the steps you need to take to find the right mediator for your divorce.
1) Consider What You Want from a Mediator: The more you think about what you need and want from a mediator, the more likely it is that you can get it. Before you begin talking with potential mediators, consider your personality and that of your spouse. Is there an imbalance of power? Of confidence? Of education? Do you want a mediator who can stop your spouse from bullying you or overwhelming you with options? Think about how proactive you want your mediator to be.
Some mediators suggest options to help the parties towards an agreement. Others stand back and let the two people find their own solutions. Which approach do you think would work best for the two of you? Do you want your attorneys to be included in the mediation sessions? Do you want them present to advise but not to speak? Think about your budget for the mediation. How much will you feel comfortable spending on a mediator? This might limit your choices, but it is best to consider up front. If possible, talk with your spouse about these issues and come to a consensus.
2) Put Together a Short List: Once you know what you want in a mediator, start putting together a short list of names. You can ask for referrals from the Arizona Bar Association or your local family law court. National organizations also offer mediator referrals. You can also go through your county mediation associations. Some, like the Maricopa County Association of Family Mediators, requires its members to meet certain standards of expertise and training, including continuing education. Members also must follow the Model Standards of Practice for Family and Divorce Mediation adopted by the Family Section of the American Bar Association and the Association for Conflict Resolution. But don’t neglect word of mouth. Ask family, friends, coworkers and your divorce attorney for recommendations. That way, you can get the scoop on the mediators before you even call.
3) Investigate Your Options: Once you have four or five names of potential mediators, it’s time to ask each one for a packet of written information about their services. Each packet should provide information about: • how the mediator was trained, whether she did an apprenticeship or mentoring program, and how many total hours of training he or she has taken, • their experience as a mediator, how many total mediations they have conducted, how many divorce mediations they have participated in, and how many mediation agreements they have prepared, • their client agreement contract, setting out clearly their fee structure, whether they charge by the hour or the day, how much they charge, • what mediation organizations or associations they belong to, • whether they carry professional liability insurance that specifically covers mediation, and • whether they offer an introductory session at no or low cost, after which you can decide if you want to work with him or her.
4) Talk to Each Mediator: Make an appointment to meet with each potential mediator. As you talk, watch the mediator’s interpersonal and professional skills. An effective mediator will be neutral, emotionally stable, honest, and sensitive, and demonstrate integrity. See how well each mediator interviews you, how well they listen, and how well they clarify the issues to be addressed. You should feel free to question each mediator about anything presented in the written materials, or any other topics that seem important to you.
Be sure to ask each mediator for a reference or two — attorneys, other mediators or court personnel who can vouch for their qualifications. After each interview, jot down your impressions, noting things you liked and doubts you may have had about each mediator. Contact the references the mediator gave and note down their remarks. Once you’re done with the interviews, it’s time to reread your notes and figure out which person seems most likely to be able to assist you. Taking the time to find a mediator you like, respect and believe to be qualified is well worth it in the long run.
Chris Hildebrand wrote this article to ensure everyone has access to information about family law in Arizona. Chris is a divorce and family law attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award. He believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a divorce should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and, quite frankly, actually caring about what his clients are going through in a divorce or family law case. In short, his practice is defined by the success of his clients. He also manages all of the other attorneys at his firm to make sure the outcomes in their clients’ cases are successful as well.