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Recession Mediation 101: How To “Settle For Less”

From Erica Becks’ Cure for the Common Conflict.

Compromise. It’s a term that most mediators throw around quite a bit. But, do we really want parties to ‘compromise’ in order to reach settlement? I say no. Why is that? Because compromise inevitably means that one and/or both parties leave feeling like they had to give up something. The way I feel about compromise in mediation is akin to how I feel about my clients ’compromising’ their values around money when it comes to paying a professional to help them settle their divorce. Divorce is a difficult and costly process. Obviously. So why, as a mediator, would you want your clients to ‘compromise’ and pay for something because they believe that they have no other option, and walk away feeling somewhat cheated? Specifically, who of you would want to pay Nordstrom’s prices, when you can receive the same services at Target prices, instead?

Case in point, if you call around to local mediators asking for price quotes, you’ll find most charge between $250-$350 per hour. One of the biggest misconceptions divorcing couples have about mediation, is that they have to go to a mediator who is also an attorney. I do believe that family law attorney-mediators should be utilized for cases which require more technical expertise than say your average couple that is divorcing with few assets or complex legal considerations. And while I personally have nothing against attorney-mediators, I do have a problem with the fact that they charge the same amount for legal advice as they do for a service that does not allow for the dispensation of legal advice (i.e. mediation). Sure, they can argue that they have specialized ‘expertise’ and ‘knowledge’ that other ‘non-attorney mediators’ do not. But any practicing mediator should be well-versed in family law, and trust me, to become familiar with general family law concepts, does not mean you need to fork over six figures for a law degree. If this was the case, then most legal document assistants, paralegals, and courthouse clerks would be out of a job.

Most qualified mediators have undergone some type of course work in family law and many are family law specialists. That said, many ‘attorney-mediators’ are not family law specialists at all, but hail from fields like personal injury or business litigation. In fact, the Family Law for Mediators course that I attended, was mainly comprised of attorneys who had no experience in family law, but like me, were eager to learn the basics and open up a divorce mediation practice. But I digress.

In short, if money is no object, then by all means, an ‘attorney-mediator’ could be a viable option for you. But if you are like most of my clients, then the thought of draining your already meager savings and giving it to an attorney who charges you twice as much as I do for the same service, sounds pretty repugnant. So, for those of you who don’t shop at Nordstrom’s or are struggling to stay afloat in this current economic downturn, I am proud to offer a Target mediation haven. Because after all, going bankrupt was SO last year.

*NOTE: you should ALWAYS seek legal consultation from an attorney before divorcing or participating in mediation, and definitely before signing any type of agreement.


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