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Man and woman coping with divorce

Five Steps for Choosing the Right Divorce Mediator for You

Choosing the right mediator is one of the most important decisions you’ll make during the divorce process. The right divorce mediator can save you money, shorten the painful divorce process, and empower you for life after divorce—all crucial factors in your healing process.

But knowing how to find the right mediator for your specific needs can be overwhelming. There are many options to choose from, and finding the right fit can be challenging. For those of you who feel ready to start this process, I’ve offered five key steps below to find the right divorce mediator for you.

1. Interview, Interview, Interview!

Many divorce mediators offer free or low-cost introductory calls or initial consultations. Take advantage of this! You should speak with as many (and I mean, as many) mediators as you need to feel comfortable enough to make your decision.

When talking with potential mediators, keep in mind that—since mediation is a voluntary process—your partner must also agree on the mediator. Depending on your partner’s perspective, it might make sense to start by asking them to help identify and interview mediators. I’ve found that this can be especially effective in cases where one partner is hesitant about using mediation. Involving your partner in identifying a mediator both demonstrates your desire to work together—easing some of your partner’s anxiety about mediation—and reduces the amount of time it takes to start having important discussions.

If you interview and choose your mediator on your own, most mediators will ask to briefly speak with your partner prior to meeting you both in person. This quick chat allows your partner the same opportunity to speak privately with the mediator, thereby addressing any actual or perceived bias that could arise from working with a mediator who speaks with only one partner before starting the process.

Additionally, when you do speak with mediators, you should do more than learn about their credentials—you should also study your ability to communicate with them. Since mediation requires that you be your own advocate, make sure that you’re comfortable expressing yourself to the mediator you choose. And remember that you’ll also have to share the intimate details of your life—the good, the bad, and the ugly!—with your mediator. Make sure you find a mediator you can trust with those details and whom you’ll feel comfortable with during sensitive, personal conversations.

2. The right kind of experience

Not all divorce mediators are attorneys. There are many types of mediators who work with divorcing couples. Therapists and financial advisors, for example, are often willing to serve as divorce mediators. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to working with each type of mediator. However—and, as an attorney, I’m probably biased—I encourage you to put attorney-mediators at the top of your list.

The reason is that attorney-mediators—and especially those with backgrounds in family law—know the relevant laws and can advise you on how they might affect your divorce process. Attorney-mediators can draft a binding agreement and prepare and file divorce papers at the end of the process. This will probably save you money, since a non-attorney mediator will usually have to create what’s known as a memorandum of understanding documenting your discussions so that an attorney can later draft a binding document.

Therefore, attorney-mediators offer a “one-stop-shop” that non-attorneys can’t provide. In my experience, couples get a great deal of comfort from knowing that, when the mediation is over, they won’t have to hire another professional to file papers before moving forward.

That said, most attorney-mediators will strongly encourage each of you to hire a review attorney to ensure that the agreement adequately protects your interests. This is an important part of the process, ensuring that your agreement reflects the understanding that you and your partner have reached together with the mediator. But don’t worry: most attorney-mediators can refer you to a mediation-friendly attorney who won’t derail your hard work. And you don’t have to pay the reviewing lawyer a retainer fee, but an hourly fee for the review work.

3. Does the divorce mediator understand family law?

Regardless of whether you select an attorney-mediator, make sure that your mediator knows family law. Although therapists, financial advisors, and other professionals who mediate generally can’t give you legal advice, they can still provide important information throughout the process.

Some states, including New York, require specific things to be present in your agreement for the court to accept it. Your mediator needs to know what those are and make sure that your agreement includes them.

4. How does the mediator approach the sessions?

Although every divorce mediator’s style is different, there are two general approaches mediators take: facilitative or evaluative. Facilitative mediators focus more on guiding discussions without providing input. Evaluative mediators are more directive, using their own professional experience to generate options, point out potential pitfalls, and offer opinions as to what a court would decide if a particular issue were in a judge’s hands.

Although many mediators use a combination of methods—sometimes taking the lead while knowing when to take the back seat—most mediators tend to lean more in one direction. You should reflect on your and your partner’s personalities and find a mediator with an approach that will be the most productive for your style of communication.

5. Trust your gut

Throughout this process, you will, if you haven’t already, receive lots of advice from well-meaning friends and family (whether you ask for it or not!). In my experience, some of this advice can be helpful for my clients—and some of it, well, not so much.

Thus, my final and most important tip when selecting your divorce mediator is to trust your own instincts to make the decision that is right for you. You, and no one else, are in the best position to decide who is best suited to your situation. And your comfort and confidence in your choice will contribute to a successful mediation that will help you move forward to the next stage of your life.

SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, your family, and your future. “Divorce can be on your terms.” – SAS For Women

Bryana Turner is a matrimonial attorney turned family law mediator. She believes divorce is hard but it doesn’t have to be war. After becoming dissatisfied and disheartened by the scars divorce litigation can leave on both the individual and the family, she founded Turner Divorce Mediation, P.C.—a practice dedicated to providing more amicable means to resolving family conflict.

credit: weheartit.com

How Much Does a Divorce Cost?

“How much does a divorce cost?” is one of the first questions we often hear when a woman makes contact with us, while “how long will a divorce take?” is a close second. We wish there were a menu to refer you to, so you could evaluate your choices and pick and choose items à la carte. However, the correct, though immensely unsatisfying answer to both questions is, “It depends.”

That doesn’t mean you should stop investigating your options. It’s important for you to be educated on your choices so you learn what’s possible for your life. The following insights, shared by NYC divorce attorney Orrit Hershkovitz will help you get started on whether your divorce will cost a few thousand dollars or several hundreds of thousands, and whether it will take several months or several years.

So how much DOES a Divorce Cost?  That depends upon…

1. The process you select

There are various methods to dissolve a marriage. Mediation, in which a neutral professional (usually a lawyer or mental health professional) facilitates a resolution between the parties, is generally the most economical means of ending a marriage. Participants can be represented by counsel (their own lawyers) throughout the process. Another option is collaborative divorce, a process that requires both parties to agree in advance not to go to court, and to retain new counsel if they do. However, not all couples are suited to mediation or collaborative divorce, particularly if one spouse has not been, or will not be, given access to the financial information and documentation necessary to make an informed decision, or fears for his or her safety or the safety of his or her children. One or both individuals may also prefer not to negotiate directly with the other spouse.

Another option is the more traditional approach: hiring a lawyer to negotiate on your behalf.

Hiring a lawyer does not necessarily mean that you and your spouse are headed to divorce court.

An agreement may be negotiated (as in an uncontested divorce), either directly or through counsel, without ever stepping foot in a courtroom. Litigation (or a contested divorce) though unavoidable in some instances, will often increase a couple’s costs.

In all cases, court fees will be incurred. Such fees will include the cost of filing a divorce action and other paperwork required to obtain a divorce decree, and may include fees for making applications (or “motions”) to the court. In New York, for instance, the current filing fees to obtain a divorce amount to almost $400; the fee to make a motion is $45. Obviously, the longer the litigation continues, the more you can expect to pay for your (and possibly your spouse’s) attorney’s fees. Additional funds may be expended on the service of legal documents (e.g., summonses and subpoenas), transcripts, and the preparation of court orders (e.g., Qualified Domestic Relations Orders necessary to distribute certain retirement assets).

2. The number and complexity of the issues that are contested

Some divorces appear simple from the start. The parties, for instance, may have no children or no substantial assets or debts. Or a divorcing couple may have already discussed and agreed upon a resolution of all issues. Other cases are more complex. Not only may the parties not agree on the issues of parental decision-making and access, but they may also have assets that are not easily divisible (e.g., a work of art, a business), need to be valued (e.g., a house, stock options) or sold. But the nature of the issues themselves is only part of the equation.

Any acrimony between the parties can also delay the resolution of even the simplest issue.

By contrast, the parties’ willingness to compromise and cooperate can facilitate the resolution of even the most complex issue. Thus, as with your choice of process, you and your spouse can control the cost and length of your divorce by choosing whether, when, and how to conciliate in a dispute.

3. The lawyer you hire

The lawyer you select to represent you, and the lawyer your spouse may select to represent him or her, is another significant factor that will affect the length and cost of your divorce. The range of hourly fees charged by lawyers varies widely across the country. Even in large legal markets, hourly rates can range from approximately $250 to $750. Where a lawyer falls on that spectrum usually depends on his or her experience, reputation, and the size of his or her firm. The complexity of the case is more likely to affect a lawyer’s retainer fee, which is an advance payment intended to cover at least the lawyer’s initial work on the case.

Read this for more on how to pay for a divorce attorney.

Equally important as a lawyer’s fees is the fit between you and your lawyer. Your chemistry. You should not only be confident in your lawyer’s abilities, but also comfortable with how he or she is advancing your case. Do you feel protected? Understood? Is your lawyer prompt in responding to your calls and e-mails? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” not only may your choice of lawyer affect the cost and time it takes for you to get divorced, but you may also be dissatisfied with the end result.

If this chemistry issue is starting to sound like a “relationship,” it is. As in any relationship – indeed, as in marriage itself – the compatibility between lawyer and client is critical. Choose wisely.

4. Where you live

How much a divorce will cost tends to correlate with the cost of living in a particular locale. Not only will legal (and especially attorneys’) fees be higher in areas in which it is more expensive to live, but you may also have to pay more child and spousal support. If you live in Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, or other major city, you can expect to pay more than someone living in Hope, Kentucky, for instance.

5. Whether you need experts

If there are substantial assets, you may need an expert to value a business or a pension, or appraise real property or personal property such as art, jewelry, or other collectibles. You may also want to consult with an accountant, financial advisor, or other experts for advice about the potential tax or financial implications of a proposed settlement. If custody is contested, the court may appoint a child custody evaluator to assist the court in making its determination. An attorney for the child or children may also be appointed.

In summary, the decisions that you and your spouse make, and how you conduct yourselves, in the divorce process can, at least to some extent, affect how long your divorce will take and how much it will cost.

Focus on the factors you can control.

Understanding and choosing a process and lawyer wisely as early as possible will help to control your financial and emotional costs. Consider making a free appointment with SAS for Women to learn your next steps, what process might be especially good for you, and for referrals to vetted legal professionals. Or make a list of your questions, your assets and debts, and make an appointment with a divorce attorney who can give you concrete feedback on your unique story.

Orrit Hershkovitz, a partner at Barton LLP, represents individuals in all aspects of family and matrimonial law, including divorce, parental custody and access, child and spousal support, property distribution, relocation, enforcement, and the negotiation of pre-nuptial, post-nuptial, and separation agreements. In addition to her work representing private clients, Orrit is also an active supporter of Sanctuary for Families, a non-profit organization that provides comprehensive services to victims of domestic violence. For more information, call Orrit at (212) 885-8832.