A “mediator” can be many different things. In most situations, a mediator has a background in counseling and conflict resolution. This training can help mediators diffuse areas of disagreement and move the divorcing spouses to common ground. In some states, it is very common or even required in some circumstances for a divorce mediator to be an attorney. A legally-trained mediator will presumably have a strong understanding of the legal system and that can help the mediator construct an agreement that will be accepted by a court.
Whether a mediator is a lawyer or not, it is important for each spouse to recognize that the mediator does not represent them. The mediator is trying to get the divorcing spouses to find a mutually-agreeable solution and that will not always be the best possible deal for each spouse individually. There are some reasons that each spouse in a mediation should consider seeking the counsel of an experienced divorce lawyer.
How can a consulting lawyer help?
A spouse can consult a lawyer before, during, and after a mediation and that lawyer can provide some of the following services:
- Explaining the process and options: A lawyer can explain to someone seeking a divorce exactly how the process works. This can give the client confidence going into a mediation. The lawyer can also explain the different options for seeking the divorce and even help the client find a qualified mediator.
- Coaching: A lawyer can help a client plan for a mediation session. That means giving the client some sense of what types of questions will come up in the process so the client can be prepared with the best possible responses.
- Explain costs and possible outcomes: A lawyer can help a client understand the tradeoffs of a mediated settlement. For example, a lawyer can help a client, that does not have a lot of assets, to realize that a mediation is likely to yield a better financial outcome than fighting as hard as possible in litigation.
- Independent review of mediated agreement: Perhaps most importantly, a lawyer can review an agreement to make sure it is a fair deal for his or her client.
- Prepare court documents: A court must still approve a mediated agreement, and many mediators do not get involved in that process. A lawyer can help with all the paperwork.
When to consult a lawyer
Legal advice is very useful to understand the process before beginning mediation. During mediation, a lawyer may only be needed to answer tough questions or get a second opinion. It is generally most important to secure an independent review of an agreement after mediation is complete.
Qualifications of a consulting lawyer
Most divorce or family law experts will be able to provide sound advice for anyone considering or going through a mediated divorce. Fees will vary drastically, but it is typically best to find a lawyer that will agree to consult for an hourly fee without requiring any upfront payments.