The decision about whether to refer, when to refer, and to whom to refer, is similar to making referrals for any professional service. Look for training, experience, references, and high ethical standards. Referrals to divorce mediation may be made at any point of the divorce process, up to the eve of trial. However, for any family conflict, the sooner the parties step off the adversarial path to adopt a more respectful, consensual process, the better it is for their emotional, physical, and financial health, and the well-being of their children.
Mediation is a process in which a divorcing couple or parties to a family conflict or dispute communicate about their conflict with the help of a trained neutral (the mediator), with the goal of reaching an agreement. Some divorcing couples may be able to work out all issues dividing them without help, but more frequently, clients who are facing a divorce or other family conflict need some assistance to reach a settlement that most effectively meets their needs and the needs of their minor children. Mediation is often their best option.
Effective family mediation requites a set of skills and attitudes that is quite different from the skills and attitudes of an effective advocate or litigator. Many outstanding family mediators come from previous careers in counseling, teaching, or religious ministry. Some attorneys are wonderful mediators; others are not. Attorneys making the transition to mediation frequently must un-learn behaviors that made them successful as litigators. Whole-hearted commitment to the mediation process is essential.
When making your referral, look for a mediator who is consistently refining his or her skills through continuing education and through membership in professional organizations such as the Academy of Professional Family Mediators (APFM) or Mediate.com. APFM certification demonstrates that the mediator’s experience and training have been verified, that the mediator has pledged to follow the APFM’s Ethical Standards for Family Mediators, that the mediator continues engage in professional development and carries professional malpractice insurance. Certification by Mediate.com also provides similar assurances for a wider range of mediators: the mediator is well-trained, experienced, ethical, and completes twelve hours of additional training per year.
As a result of your referral to mediation, your clients can expect a process that is client-centered, flexible and confidential. Couples shape their agreement to accommodate their unique circumstances. Mediation is forward-looking. However, history or context may inform how the parties plan for their future. Generally, blame or accusations about past conduct are not helpful. Mediated divorce agreements have higher long-term compliance rates. Compliance with parenting plans and support obligations provides more stability for the children. Mediation is much less expensive, both in terms of dollars and in terms of life energy expended. Prompt, consensual resolution provides a measure of life satisfaction gained, an opportunity to thrive.