Become a Divorce Mediator
A divorce mediator works with divorcing couples to help them reach agreement on child custody, child support, and the division of debt and assets, among other issues. As a mediator, you don’t act as a judge. Instead, you help participants listen to each other and nudge them toward an agreement they both can live with. Divorce mediation is a rewarding career, but before starting down that path you should understand the education and training requirements.
Meeting Educational Requirements
- Find requirements for your state or county. Generally, states have no requirements for practicing mediation.
However, some counties might set rules for who can practice mediation in their county. You should research the state and county where you want to work.
- You should contact your state’s bar association. Most mediators are lawyers, and bar associations are organizations made up of lawyers. They should have more information about any requirements in the state or county where you want to practice.
- You can also look at the Mediation Works website, which summarizes the laws in all 50 states. The website is available here: http://www.mediationworks.com/medcert3/staterequirements.htm.
- Identify requirements for getting on court rosters. Many state courts maintain rosters of court-approved mediators. Getting on a roster is a great way to find clients, since the judges will only make referrals to mediators on the roster. You should find out the requirements for being placed on rosters.
- Each state is different. Generally, however, you’ll need a degree and specialized training in family or divorce mediation.
- It will be very difficult to develop a divorce mediation career outside of the rosters, so you should commit to satisfying the court’s requirements.
- Obtain a bachelor’s degree. To get on most court rosters, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree.
You should check with the state or county to check if they recommend certain subjects.
- Many divorce mediators earn degrees in psychology and social work.
- Some divorce mediators also earn an undergraduate degree in law, though law is not an undergraduate degree in the U.S.
- Research law schools. Many divorce mediators are also lawyers who have a family law or divorce practice. Because it might be difficult to earn a living doing only mediation work, you should consider obtaining a law degree. Your divorce mediation business could be just one part of your entire law practice.
- Many law schools offer coursework in mediation, which would be ideal. Some have clinics devoted to mediation, where you will be able to handle a mediation under faculty supervision.
- You can find information about law schools at the American Bar Association’s website: http://www.abarequireddisclosures.org/.
- Carefully consider the expense of law school before rushing off to apply. Most states do not require a law degree to qualify for their rosters, so it isn’t required. Law schools often charge $40,000 a year or more in tuition. You’ll also need to pay for living expenses. Avoid applying for law school until you can justify the expense.
- Earn an advanced degree. An advanced degree can help prepare you for your divorce mediation career by allowing you to specialize. It also gives you more career options if your mediation career doesn’t take off. In addition to a law degree, you might consider graduate degrees in psychology or social work.
- If you earn a graduate degree in psychology, for example, you could specialize in marriage and family counseling.
- Because divorce cases can be financially complicated, some states encourage you to become a certified public accountant. For example, Tennessee considers a CPA designation as an acceptable educational credential for divorce mediators.
- Complete divorce mediation training. Courts will require specialized training before they place you on their rosters. The number of hours required will depend on the location. For example, in New Jersey, Family Part Mediators require 40 hours of divorce mediation training.
- The amount of training required differs by location. To be listed as a family mediator in Tennessee, for example, you need 40 hours of family mediation with specific components (such as domestic violence). You also need four hours of training in Tennessee’s family law and court procedures.
- You can find training programs through your local bar association or through a local mediation association.
- Satisfy continuing education requirements. Your education never ends as a mediator. Instead, you’ll probably need to take additional coursework throughout your career to stay on top of changes in the field.
- For example, the Vermont Court Mediation Program requires mediators to earn 20 hours of continuing education every two years.
- Other states might require more or less continuing education. In Indiana, for example, you will need six hours of continuing education every two years.
Gaining Divorce Mediation Experience
- Identify any experience requirement. Court rosters often require that you have practiced mediation for a certain amount of time before you qualify for the roster. You should contact the court for the county where you want to practice to find out your particular requirements.
- Even if you don’t want to accept court-appointed work, gaining initial experience is critical. This is the time to learn and make mistakes.
- Intern. Some states will require internships. For example, New Hampshire’s court system requires that you intern for 60 hours and handle six different marital mediation cases before you can qualify for the roster.
- You can find internship opportunities by contacting your nearest mediation organization. You might intern with a seasoned divorce mediator or with a community mediation service.
- You should also talk to other newer divorce mediators to ask them about their mediation experience. They might recommend an experienced mediator you can intern with, or they could warn you to avoid someone they had a bad experience with.
- Find a mentor. Some state courts require you to earn a number of hours co-mediation with an experienced mentor. For example, New Hampshire’s courts require 54 hours in co-mediation.
Find a mentor who practices divorce mediation and not a different specialty
- You could possibly combine your mentoring with your internship.
- Realize that some experienced mediators will offer their services for free, but others might charge a fee. When you find a potential mentor, you should fully discuss expectations, including the cost.
- Volunteer. You can also gain valuable experience performing pro bono services. This is a great way to learn skills and begin to build a reputation in the mediation community. In some states, courts will expect that you perform some pro bono to stay listed on their roster.
- For example, Alabama requires domestic relations mediators to provide 10 hours of mediation pro bono upon request.
- In Delaware, mediators complete five pro bono mediations to complete their training.
Building Your Practice
- Apply for a court roster. Most divorce mediation is court-appointed, so you want to get on a local roster as soon as possible. Visit your local courthouse and ask how to sign up. They will want to see that you have satisfied all their requirements, so gather supporting documents, such as proof of education and training certificates.
- You will probably have to complete an application that discusses in detail your experience.
- Create a high-quality website. Today, people go online when they need help with something, so you’ll want a web presence. Invest in a quality website.
The more professional the website looks, the better.
- Consider hiring someone to build the website, unless you have a background in web design. People will judge you based on how professional your website looks. Websites with jarring graphics and sloppy grammar will turn people off.
- If you have no money, then buy a package with a website like GoDaddy or Wix.com. They will sell you a domain and then offer templates that allow you to create a basic website.
- Do a first-class mailing. You can also get your name out by mailing people who you think would provide referrals to divorcing couples. You should invest in quality stationery and then draft a letter of about two to three paragraphs. In your letter, you should identify yourself and explain a little bit about your practice.
- Give your recipients a way to express interest. For example, you can include a post card which they can send back if they want more information about your services.
- Target people who might learn about the difficulties a couple is having. For example, you can send your letter to clergy, therapists, and accountants.
- Also target mediators who don’t practice divorce mediation. They might be aware that a client is considering divorce and can provide referrals.
- Network with attorneys. Lawyers are another good source of referrals. When people are thinking about divorcing, they will contact a lawyer, who might not have the skills to handle a mediation themselves. You will want them to send clients your way.
- Include attorneys in your first-class mailing, but also schedule lunches so that you can get to know them personally.
- Remember to offer something in return. For example, you can agree to refer couples to the attorney if mediation fails and they want to divorce. You have to give something to get something in return.
- Join mediation organizations. Your state should have a mediation organization that you can join. Some allow people to join as students, so you can begin early establishing yourself. Organizations provide many great resources. It is also how you can meet other divorce mediators.
- Remember to get involved in these organizations. Join one or two committees and work hard to impress the other members.
- If you’re a lawyer, then you should also participate in your local or state bar association.
- Write articles on divorce mediation. Writing articles shows potential clients that you are engaged in the divorce mediation business and also an expert in the field. You can target different audiences with different articles.
- For example, an article on divorce mediation with a bar journal or law review will increase your visibility with other mediators and with lawyers, who are good sources of referrals.
- By contrast, a basic article explaining the nuts and bolts of divorce mediation might be appropriate for your local newspaper or for posting on your website. You can showcase your knowledge to the public this way.
- Purchase advertising, if possible. Advertising is expensive, and it might not yield great dividends. Nevertheless, there’s no better way to get your name in front of many people. Consider the following:
- Phone book ads. Buy an ad in your phone book’s Yellow Pages. Be sure to identify your specialty in the ad.
- Online advertising. Websites such as Mediate.com are great sites for advertising your services. Also think about Google Adwords, which is a pay-per-click form of advertising. Google allows you to target specific regions, cities, or countries.
- Newspaper ads. Target local newspapers and call to ask how much it costs to run an ad. Run your ad more than once, since people usually need to see an ad several times before they call.
- Set competitive fees. You should research what other divorce mediators in your area charge. You want to be competitive. Your instinct might be to set your fee very low. However, you shouldn’t undercharge. You will be working hard and earning every penny.
- Think about how you want to structure your fees. For example, some mediators have clients pay upfront and then deduct from this amount as they earn the fee. Others have clients pay as they go.
- Create forms. You’ll use many forms in your business, and you should prepare them before you open your doors. Over time, you may need to change them, but you should have something in hand when you start.
- For example, you should certainly spell out your fees in a fee agreement which you ask clients to sign before you begin mediation. You can find sample fee agreements online or through your local mediation association.
- You’ll also need intake forms, which potential clients can fill out when they first contact you. These forms will ask for background information on the dispute.
- You should also prepare “agreement to mediate” and confidentiality forms.
- Consider taking on non-divorce cases. You might need to cut your teeth handling non-divorce mediations. For example, you might tackle employment disputes or small claims cases. You can get this work either by signing up for a court roster or simply advertising and accepting any referrals that come your way.
- Try to be open to non-divorce cases, at least in the beginning. If a lawyer refers a landlord-tenant dispute to you for mediation, then you might receive divorce case referrals later if you do a great job.
- The more diverse your practice, the better your chances of thriving financially.
- Before beginning your journey, meet with an experienced mediator to discuss the state of the market. Although mediation has exploded, the most successful mediators usually have deep networks built up over the years. You will want to know what the market is like for new divorce mediators before investing time and energy into your career.