Ria Severance is a member of Pasadena Collaborative Divorce (PCD). Although all PCD Professionals are trained in Mediation, we recommend that the primary mediator be a collaboratively-trained family law attorney, capable of working with additional professionals as needed, while ensuring that all your documents are carefully drawn up and filed, in compliance with California laws.
Attorney mediators are, by definition, neutral. They answer questions about the law, and are skilled at writing up agreements in accordance with the law. In their efforts to remain neutral, all mediators allow partners to reach any agreement they wish, as long as it is not illegal and both partners understand the ramifications of their agreement. As neutral attorney mediators, they do not advise or advocate for what might be best for either partner, although they may offer creative agreement options.
Consequently, PCD’s attorney mediators strongly recommend that divorcing partners each seek private consultation from mediation-friendly, consulting attorneys. Consulting attorneys trained in collaborative practice are specifically schooled in how to be “mediation-friendly” when they consult with mediating clients, rather than adversarial in their approach to your partner. Attorneys who are mediation-friendly actively avoid creating unnecessary distress and tension — they avoid unnecessarily sabotaging a mediation by pushing the consulting client towards litigation. Instead, consulting family law lawyers empower their clients to negotiate for viable and reasonable legal options and to consider carefully the pros and cons of certain legal decisions in their mediation. Collaboratively-trained consulting attorneys are able to focus on the couple and family’s overall well-being, without upending the mediation in favor of adversarial positioning.
Mediation, Enhanced Mediation and Co-Mediation all recommend each partner hiring a consulting attorney. The extent and timing of your use of a consulting attorney is up to you. At the same time, it is not necessarily advisable to wait until just prior to signing an agreement to consult with an attorney. Why? Because at this point your partner and your mediating attorney have invested considerable time, effort and money in coming up with the existing agreement. Changing anything significant at the last minute, may create unnecessary upsets, and may decrease the likelihood your partner will be open to a change. On the other hand, using your consulting attorney to prepare for your mediation meetings and to be clear, ahead of time, about how you can offer and come up with win-win solutions, may save you time and money in the long run.
Some mediating partners also hire collaboratively-trained consulting divorce coaches who are not in the room during the mediation. The consulting coach is a licensed mental health professional who helps prepare a partner for mediation sessions by enhancing a client’s communication and negotiation skills prior to a mediation meeting, training the client in how to protest respectfully during the mediation and to how to propose viable alternatives to what a partner is proposing, without being provocative and disrespectful, and without becoming upset in the face of a partner’s provocation, etc. Role-playing and other training techniques are used to increase the partner’s confidence and ability to negotiate effectively, while managing fear and anxiety.
Similarly, some couples entering a mediation, each separately hire a consulting financial specialist who helps the individual partner understand the family’s finances, and set a financial plan and budget in motion. A consulting financial specialist may be especially helpful for the less-financially savvy spouse needing to map out a realistic picture of the economic future, how to prepare for retirement, and what the basic requirements are for thriving.