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Choosing A Divorce Mediator
by Julie Denny


Questions from Julie and Answers from Philip Crump
Supporting Effective Agreement

Finding and selecting a mediator can be easier if you follow some simple steps. In the best of circumstances, divorce is an uncomfortable process. Take the time to assure you have a mediator whom you like, respect and believe to be qualified to help both of you negotiate that equitable settlement. Start by generating a list of four or five mediators in your area. Comparison shopping is just as important here as anywhere else. By talking to a number of mediators you will not only become clear on which one feels right for you, but you will also familiarize yourself with the process, the topics you'll need to discuss, the costs associated with mediated divorces and the issues involved in selecting a mediator. Names of mediators are available through several channels including , the Yellow Pages, state mediation associations, and local attorneys, therapists and clergy. In compiling your list don't rule out mediators a little distance away from your home. The right mediator may be worth a drive. Now call each of the mediators and check him or her out. Factors to consider in choosing your mediator are:


1. What is the mediator's training? Anyone can hang up a shingle and call herself a mediator. The basic Divorce Mediation training is 40 hours.
As indicated in my professional resume, I have over three hundred hours of mediation, conflict resolution and facilitation training since I began in early 1992.


2. How long has the mediator been practicing? [A note here: I remember with gratitude the couple who took a chance on me when I was just beginning. When I told the prospect I was just starting out, she responded, "Well you have to start somewhere," and set up an appointment. I don't want to deny my colleagues the opportunity I had, but if you decide to go with a beginner, do so in full knowledge that they are less experienced.]
My first mediations were in Metro Court in Albuquerque and in the Parent-Teenager mediation program in Santa Fe in early 1992. I mediated an employment situation successfully—at my place of work. My first divorce case (1992) involved a couple who each called independently; I had stood up with them at their wedding! We’re all still friends.


3. How many divorce cases has he mediated? Mediators often handle community and business disputes as well as divorce. The issues involved in divorce are very specific and a certain level of knowledge about those issues is critical. Make sure the mediator has adequate experience with divorce mediation.
I don’t know how many cases I have mediated in 25 years. A lot. I kept my day job until January of 1999, then went to full time solo practice. I have mediated hundreds of cases, at least, in a wide variety of fields beyond divorce.


4. Does the mediator have any references? Can the mediator provide you with names of other mediators, therapists, or attorneys who will vouch for his or her qualification? Because mediation is confidential, the mediator may not be able to give you names of former clients.
Right. I cannot name clients, even though some have offered. Call any Family Court judge in Albuquerque or many of the Family Law practitioners in Santa Fe. I can give you lots of names of professionals who have sent clients.


5. Is s/he viewed as an authority on the process of mediation? Has the mediator written any articles or served on any association boards, trained others or made any speeches on the subject of mediation?
I have been on the board of the New Mexico Mediation Association in previous years. I have served as trainer for State employees as well as in private settings. I have most recently been a co-trainer at the UNM Law School in Basic and Family mediation trainings.


6. What is his mediator's style? Mediator's processes vary significantly. It is useful to understand that some mediators are highly directive, offering evaluation of likelihood a judge will sign off on one or another option in court and giving you concrete proposals for resolution of conflicts; other mediators opt for a more facilitative approach empowering the couple over and over again to make their own choices through deft questioning and discussion. Neither is right or wrong. They are just different. Ask yourself how much in control of the negotiation you and your spouse want to be. Get the mediators to discuss their approach to mediation. It will help you become more knowledgeable about the process.
I‘ll tell you about my style, which ranges from facilitative to transformative. I am firmly committed to helping people express their own needs in ways that others can hear clearly and respond, not react. I am firmly committed to helping people make their own decisions. I don’t decide anything, don’t make anybody do anything and don’t twist arms.


7. What are the mediator's fees? These vary significantly from region to region, but a comparison of various mediator's fees in your area will be useful. Most mediators require payment at each session. Some will take a retainer up front. There may be a flat fee for preparation of the Memorandum of Understanding, the final document of the mediation. Clarify and compare.
I have a standard rate, which I will tell you about. I charge mostly for direct mediation and preparation. Sometimes I charge travel if long distances are involved. Generally, my clients split the cost. I ask that participants bring their checkbooks.


8. Does the mediator offer a free consultation? This is a great way to get to know the mediator and become familiar with the process. Not everyone offers it, but you should ask. Sometimes mediators offer the consultation free if the couple continues with the process and charge a minimal fee if they don't.
Yes—I allow up to 30 minutes of no-obligation timer (preferably with everyone present and face-to-face), to allow you to meet me, learn about my style and format and make informed decisions about proceeding or not.


9. Does the mediator have materials to help you make your decision? They might include a website, a brochure, specific information on the mediator, overview of divorce in your state, child support guidelines, issues to be covered in divorce mediation, relevant articles. Materials are a reflection of mediators. If you have the sense the materials are slap-dash, so might the process be. If on the other hand, the materials are instructive, relevant and well put together, it's more likely the mediator's process also will be.
I have lots of “homework” and handouts for you. I believe that when people can do a lot of work outside the mediation, everyone is better off.


10, What is the mediator's point of view about your having an attorney? Good mediators recommend that attorneys for both parties review the agreement, a Memorandum of Understanding, before it is signed. This assures you protection from any legal oversights during the mediation. Mediators frequently can supply clients with a list of mediation-friendly attorneys who will protect you from those legal oversights without undermining your choice to collaboratively negotiate.
Some of my best friends are lawyers. No, really. I subscribe to the statement above. Attorneys most often are helpful, creative, supportive and provide the reassurance that everything is done well.


11. How do you feel about the mediator? Chemistry counts. Divorce is never fun. If you are uncomfortable with a mediator, for any reason, you should seek another one.
I sometimes say, “If you are anxious, that means you are paying attention.” Yes, mediation is not easy if done well. Most people find sitting down with someone they’ve been in conflict with to be stressful. It should not be overwhelming. Tell me your needs and we can look for a format that will be safe, reasonably comfortable and productive.

 Let me know if you have experienced domestic violence, so that we can establish reasonable safeguards. I do not subscribe to the belief that mediation is always inappropriate in situations of domestic violence. However, there are many safeguards that can be put into place, if it is determined that mediation may be appropriate.                       July 2000
Julie Denny biography and additional articles:

Call or email me—
            let’s talk about your situation and whether mediation with me might be productive.

Philip Crump

1301-B Luisa Street   [Map]

Santa Fe, New Mexico  87505



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