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How to Find a Divorce Mediator in Washington

In this article we’ll explore how to find a divorce mediator in Washington state, explore what requirements (if any) are needed for Washington mediators to become mediators, and help you search for a Washington divorce mediator who can meet your needs. Before you begin the process of finding a divorce mediator, it’s important that you understand the role a mediator plays in your divorce.

Here are some key topics we’ll explore in this article:

What Does a Mediator Do?

To finalize a divorce, couples must make a range of important decisions about how to divide property, money, assets, and debts. They may need to make decisions about how to split shared interests in retirement accounts, investments, or business. Additionally, divorcing couples with children will need to work out how important decisions on behalf of the children will be made, and who will make these decisions. Couples with children will also need to make choices about where the children will live and how shared parenting time will be scheduled and arranged. When these issues arise in divorce, disputes can occur. A divorce mediator is a neutral person who can help a divorcing couple negotiate these disputes and discover solutions that represent a mutually beneficial compromise. The style of dispute resolution and mediation can vary as widely as the mediator and his or her background and training. A mediator who is a divorce lawyer may handle the mediation process differently than a mediator who is a pastor or a mediator who is a counselor.

In a divorce without mediation, you’ll typically hire your own lawyer whose job is to represent your interests and to fight on your side to help you achieve your goals. If you want to keep the family home, or have a specific co-parenting arrangement in mind, your lawyer can build a case around that outcome. In a divorce, because each lawyer’s goal may be to build a strong case to achieve their client’s goals, the process can sometimes become contentious, especially if your goals conflict with your partner’s goals. Both of you can’t be the primary residential parent and both of you can’t keep the family home, after all. When disagreements arise that cannot be resolved, both parties may choose to hire a divorce mediator to help them resolve their differences. If a couple takes their disagreements to divorce court, the judge will often order the couple to go to mediation anyway.

More and more couples are looking for a more peaceful way forward. When couples fight during divorce, nobody wins. For couples who are looking for a more amicable path to divorce, there are several options:

  • Hire a Divorce Mediator
  • Choose Collaborative Divorce
  • Choose Collaborative Divorce with Mediation

When couples hire a divorce mediator, they will still often each have their own attorney to represent their interests but hire a mediator in addition to their attorney to serve as a neutral third party to help them find a middle ground. Sometimes couples may not hire lawyers at all, though this is uncommon. Some mediators may have both parties sign an agreement to mediate, which often includes a confidentiality agreement. This agreement protects the contents of the mediation from being disclosed in court should the case end up in court.

When couples choose collaborative divorce, each person will hire his or her own collaborative divorce lawyer. Before any negotiations or settlement talks begin, both parties sign a contract to agree not to take their divorce to court. Collaborative divorce lawyers work with their clients and with each other to find compromises and common ground to help couples settle their divorce without the need to go to court.

The collaborative divorce process may involve other professionals, including therapists, counselors, and financial advisors. Sometimes couples are committed to collaborative divorce, but still face challenges reaching a settlement or agreement. In this case, these couples may also hire a mediator to assist them with the collaborative divorce process.

When couples hire a mediator, typically they split the cost of the mediation. Both parties must agree about who they will hire as their divorce mediator. Finding a divorce mediator in Washington state can be challenging, but it can be helpful to understand qualifications you can look for when making this important decision.

Who Certifies or Oversees the Mediation Profession?

The state of Washington has no formal licensure process for mediators, nor is there any state-sanctioned or state-required mediation training required. According to the Washington State Legislature’s laws on divorce Mediation Proceedings (26.09.015), when courts appoint a mediator, “the mediator may be a member of the professional staff of a family court or mental health services agency, or may be any other person or agency designated by the court.” In cases where the court appoints a mediator and orders a couple to undergo mediation, the court will typically find someone with special training as a mediator and may even appoint a person with additional training if special circumstances warrant this.

Yet, if you are hiring your own mediator privately, any neutral person can serve as a mediator. For example, some couples might have a pastor or church leader serve as their mediator. Others might hire a counselor with mental health training to serve as their mediator. Yet, other couples might hire a divorce lawyer to work on their case in the capacity as a mediator. It is important to keep in mind that when you hire a divorce lawyer to act as your mediator, the divorce lawyer cannot provide legal advice and is not acting in the role as a lawyer.

What Mediation Certifications and Training Can I Look For?

Because there is no formal licensure or training process for mediators, one way you can search for a qualified mediator is to look for a professional who has chosen to voluntarily receive training and certification; to reach out to your county’s Washington State Dispute Resolution Center; to hire a divorce lawyer who mediates cases; or to hire another professional who works as a mediator.

Let’s explore what you can look for when looking for a divorce mediator in Washington state.

  • Find a mediator who has been certified by the Washington Mediation Association. The goal of WMA is to establish “mediator practitioner qualifications and certification” to help gain “wider acceptance of mediation among the courts and other professions” in the state of Washington. To receive certification under WMA, mediators must demonstrate that they have received at least 36 hours in mediation training. This training can be undertaken through courses offered through Washington state Dispute Resolution Centers or through university coursework (which can include training in conflict resolution, negotiation, child development, sociology of marriage, or other courses). Furthermore, to receive certification, mediators must either demonstrate that they have at least 200 hours of mediation experience, or 100 hours of co-mediation experience with a letter of recommendation from a certified WMA mediator mentor, or completion of a practicum through a Washington State Dispute Resolution Center. Mediators are also expected to complete continuing education training on ethics and diversity.
  • Reach out to your county’s Washington State Dispute Resolution Center. Washington State Dispute Resolution Centers can connect you with mediators near you. If you live in Seattle, Washington the Dispute Resolution Center of King County offers mediation for co-parenting disputes and divorce disputes. Resolution Washington is an organization that keeps Dispute Resolution Centers connected and offers training and resources for these organizations.
  • Hire a Divorce Lawyer Who Can Act as a Mediator. Some divorce lawyers offer mediation services. Divorce lawyers can help both parties understand their demands in the context of divorce law and help them find solutions within these bounds. For example, sole custody is awarded rarely. Having a divorce lawyer explain the circumstances where sole custody would apply can help a parent seeking sole custody move closer toward compromise. If you hire a divorce lawyer to act as a mediator, it is important to note that this lawyer won’t be acting in the capacity as your lawyer and won’t be able to offer you legal advice (he or she can explain the law generally, however). For this reason, you may want to hire your own lawyer to represent your interests in addition to hiring a mediator to serve as a neutral intermediary between your lawyer and your former spouse’s lawyer.
  • Hire a Professional Who Acts as a Mediator. Other professionals may also serve the role of mediators. For example, child psychologists, counselors, a person who works for mental health services in Washington, former judges, former guardian ad litem, or other retired or actively practicing professionals may also offer mediation services. Members of the clergy may also make themselves available as mediators.

Finding a mediator to help you with your divorce is a personal decision. The key thing to keep in mind is this: you want to find a mediator that both you and your former spouse trust. Finding someone with training, independent certification or other qualifications that both you and your spouse can agree upon as trustworthy, can help make the process of finding a mediator a little easier.

Benefits of Choosing a Mediator Who is Also a Lawyer

One of the benefits of choosing a mediator who is also a lawyer is that your mediator will have a sound understanding of divorce law. A divorce lawyer mediator will likely have worked on divorce cases and have a sense of what might happen should a particular dispute go to court. In this context, your mediator can give you and your former spouse important perspective about the law when negotiating difficult or contentious issues. While a lawyer hired as a mediator won’t be able to offer you or your spouse legal advice, a divorce lawyer can give you and your former spouse an overview of Washington divorce laws and give a general overview of your rights as you navigate the process.

A divorce lawyer who is actively practicing law or a divorce lawyer who formerly practiced law will likely have years or decades of experience navigating a wide range of property division disputes, child custody disputes, and more. A divorce lawyer can offer this perspective and help you and your spouse understand what kind of demands can be reasonably accommodated should you take your case to court, and what kind of demands are unlikely to be honored should you take the case to court. For example, sole custody is rarely awarded in child custody disputes, unless there is a history of domestic violence or a situation that suggests that the child’s health, safety, or wellbeing would be at risk in a shared custody situation. Having this insight could potentially help a couple avoid needlessly taking their dispute to court and could nudge a difficult or stubborn spouse to sit down at the negotiating table.

It is important to be realistic about what your divorce lawyer mediator can and cannot do when you hire him or her to serve as a mediator on your case. Couples who hire a mediator who is a divorce lawyer who then expect the mediator to play the role of a lawyer will be disappointed. Professional conduct rules will limit your divorce mediator to the role he or she is hired to serve.

The Benefits of Choosing Other Professionals to Act as Mediators

People with backgrounds in other professional fields sometimes also work as mediators. Psychologists, counselors, mental health professionals, retired judges, or guardian ad litem, may work as mediators. Clergy members may also work as mediators.

If you and your former spouse are thinking of finding a mediator to help you navigate your divorce and child custody agreement, the key factor will be finding a mediator you both can trust. For example, some individuals might be more likely to trust a member of the clergy, or a counselor.

At the end of the day, you’ll want to ask the professional about the kinds of cases they’ve handled in the past, how many cases they’ve handled, and whether they have pursued independent certification or training for mediation. You’ll also want to ask them to discuss their mediation style and process, and whether they require clients to sign confidentiality agreements.

What if the Court Appointed a Mediator to My Case and I Don’t Agree with the Decision?

While some couples choose to hire a mediator before they begin divorce negotiations, or shortly after divorce negotiations begin (when they realize they need a neutral third party to assist them with resolving disputes), some couples find themselves in the position of having already taken their divorce to court and having the court appoint a mediator. Judges typically do not want to make judgements about child custody or other personal matters. To avoid having to make a ruling on these personal decisions, most judges will order mediation before they hear a case. According to RCW 26.09.015, when the court appoints a mediator, “the court shall use the most cost-effective mediation services that are readily available unless there is good cause to access alternative providers.” According to the ADR Times courts typically “send the cases that need to be mediated to Dispute Resolution Centers throughout the State.” These centers will then refer a mediator to the case.

If the court appoints a mediator to your case, you may have the right to petition the court to object to mediation entirely (especially if your divorce involves domestic violence or abuse), or you may be able to petition the court to object to the mediator who has been chosen for you.

Finding a Divorce Mediator That’s Right for Your Case

Finding a divorce mediator that’s right for you and your former spouse is a highly personal decision. Because mediators can come from so many different professional backgrounds, your own personal values will often factor into the decision. The best way to avoid being appointed a mediator by the court is to choose mediation before your case gets to that point. Some couples choose to hire a mediator to assist them with their divorce settlement and parenting plan before they sit down at the negotiating table, and others choose the collaborative divorce process.

Hiring a divorce mediator before you go to trial can help you avoid some of the challenges of being pressured to choose mediation through the courts, or finding yourself in a position where a judge makes a decision that neither you nor your spouse want.

If you are looking for a divorce mediator in Seattle, Washington, reach out to Truce Law today. We are a team of collaborative divorce lawyers that work with couples to help them find amicable solutions. If you’re looking for a peaceful path forward, the divorce mediators and collaborative divorce lawyers in Seattle, Washington at Truce Law may be able to help you.

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