Tips on Selecting a Family Law Mediator

Not all states require divorce mediators to be certified or accredited. In fact, New Jersey is one of those states where there currently are no licensing requirements to hang out a shingle to be a Divorce Mediator.

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with an accountant, who told me that he was a divorce mediator. When I asked him as to his background and training for that role, he proudly told me that he had been divorced 3 times, had been through a protracted fight with an ex over his parenting time with their children and had his accounting practice valued for equitable distribution and therefore he knew “everything, he needed to know” to be able to guide others in their divorce settings. I was stunned by his candor and shocked by what he thought gave him “street credits” to help others resolve their marital difficulties constructively. Suffice it to say, I did not / do not think that his training provided a credible foundation to help those going through a divorce understand their options and their responsibilities. Probably the most important responsibility is knowing when a matter cannot be resolved peacefully or when a party is attempting to bully the other party into an unfair resolution of their matter.

Notwithstanding the lack of state licensing requirements to hang out a shingle, for a lawyer to be listed in the NJ Superior Court Roster of Divorce Mediators ( a list in each county of lawyers accredited to act as divorce mediators), a lawyer is required to meet the specific accreditation requirements set forth in Court Rule 1:40-12, which requires the lawyer to devote all or a substantiate amount of his practice to the area of family law and to successfully complete at least the basic 40 hour divorce mediation training course.

And, in NJ, to handle court appointed family law mediation matters where there is an active domestic violence restraining order in place requires an advanced accreditation training course over an additional 5-day period of time. Many family law mediators also volunteer their time to one or more county family law Early Settlement Panels (ESP’s) to help the court system reduce the backlog of pending cases. So, while too many people in our state have the ability to hang out a shingle claiming to be a divorce mediator, you need to do your homework to determine his / her true credentials for the work.

My recommendation is that if you and your spouse are looking for a family law mediator, do your homework and interview several mediators to determine your comfort level with their approach and their knowledge of the issues presented in your particular case. During the mediation process, my suggestion is that when you and your spouse disagree on an issue, ask the mediator how the issue would be dealt with by the court if presented. If the lawyer does not

know or is unable to answer that question, how can he guide you to a “fair resolution” of your matter? As an example, if you are seeing 15 years of alimony at XXX per year and your spouse is only willing to pay 3 years of alimony at YYY per year, should the mediator simply ask the 2 of you what you think is fair or should the mediator guide you as to the “range of reasonableness” if a judge had to decide the issue? If the mediator cannot tell you what is reasonable based on your respective income settings, etc, then why was he selected?

As part of that search, focus on lawyers whose practice is exclusively divorce and family law as opposed to a lawyer “who is a jack of all trades” and who claims to also do divorce and family law work. Based on the level of complexity of your setting,

I have been an ESP member in Essex, and Union Counties for the past 31 years and an ESP member in Somerset County for the past 10 years and a court appointed economic mediator in Essex, Union Morris, Somerset, Passaic, & Hunterdon Counties for the past 15 years.

I am a “certified matrimonial trial lawyer by the NJ Supreme Court”, which is a designation held by only 2% of the entire population of lawyers in this state. It signifies that I have a specific level of trial experience, have successfully passed specific testing requirements and family part judges who I have appeared before, have similarly acknowledged my ability to properly handle the requirements of divorce and family law trial work from commencement through completion. I am also an accredited divorce mediator and an accredited family law mediator authorized to handle family law matters where there is an active domestic violence restraining order in place.