The Family Mediation Essential Guide on How to Choose the Right Family Mediator

Family Mediator

By Cheryl Goldhart
Founder and Principal of Goldhart Law and Goldhart Mediation & Arbitration.

1. Family Mediator – Facilitating Resolution

When separating or divorcing, spouses face a significant number of life-altering decisions relating to matters such as child support, spousal support, division of property and parenting of children.  Family disputes over these and other matters arising as a result of the dissolution of a relationship can be emotionally challenging and legally complex. In such situations, a family mediator can play a crucial role in helping parties navigate their differences and reach a mutually beneficial agreement.  A solution facilitated by a mediator can avoid the significant time, cost and conflict which could arise if these issues were to be resolved by a court. The choice of a family mediator is a significant decision that can greatly influence the outcome of the mediation process. As a Certified Family Law Specialist and accredited and designated mediator and arbitrator with almost 40 years of experience, I would like to share with you my observations and insights regarding how to choose the right family mediator for your needs.

2. The Importance of Choosing the Right Family Mediator

Choosing the right family mediator is not just about finding someone to facilitate discussions. It’s about finding a professional who can guide you through a difficult process with compassion, understanding, and expertise. The right mediator can help transform a potentially adversarial situation into a collaborative problem-solving process. They can help parties communicate effectively, understand each other’s perspectives, and work towards a resolution that respects everyone’s interests and needs.

3. The Role of a Family Mediator in Dispute Resolution

A family mediator is a neutral third party who facilitates discussions between parties in a dispute. They do not take sides or make decisions for the parties. Instead, they help parties communicate effectively, identify issues, explore options, and negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement. The mediator’s role is to guide the process, ensure fairness, and help parties find a resolution that works for them.  Some mediators can be directive and predictive by analyzing the case from a judge’s perspective and providing a view as to how the case may be determined by a trial judge or arbitrator.

4. Key Qualities to Look for in a Family Mediator

When choosing a family mediator, it’s important to look for certain key qualities that can contribute to the success of the mediation process.

  • (a)  Communication Skills of a Family Mediator

    Effective communication is at the heart of the mediation process. A good family mediator should have excellent communication skills. They should be able to listen actively, understand the parties’ perspectives, and communicate clearly and effectively. They should be able to facilitate constructive dialogue, manage difficult conversations, and help parties express their views and understand each other’s positions.

  • (b)  Impartiality and Fairness of a Family Mediator

    Impartiality and fairness are fundamental to the role of a family mediator. They should be able to maintain neutrality, avoid taking sides, and ensure that all parties have an equal opportunity to express their views and participate in the process. They should be able to manage power imbalances, ensure fairness, and promote a balanced and respectful dialogue.

  • (c)  Problem-Solving Abilities of a Family Mediator

    Family mediation often involves complex issues and difficult decisions. A good family mediator should have strong problem-solving abilities. They should be able to help parties identify issues, generate options, evaluate solutions, and negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement. They should be able to guide the process in a way that encourages creative problem solving and collaborative decision making.

  • (d)  Emotional Intelligence of a Family Mediator

    Family disputes can be emotionally charged and stressful. A family mediator with high emotional intelligence can help manage these emotions and create a safe and supportive environment for dialogue. They should be able to understand and manage their own emotions, empathize with the parties’ feelings, and respond to emotional cues in a sensitive and constructive manner. They should be able to help parties manage their emotions, navigate emotional issues, and focus on their interests and needs.

  • (e)  Expertise of a Family Mediator

    Family mediation is a specialized field that requires specific skills, training, knowledge and accreditation. A mediator who has received specialized training in family mediation is equipped with the tools and techniques needed to facilitate discussions on sensitive issues such as parenting, spousal support, and property division. Certification from a recognized mediation organization can provide assurance of the mediator’s competence and adherence to professional standards.

5. The Importance of Accreditation, Certification, and Adherence to Standards

  • (a)  Understanding the Significance of Accreditation and Certification

    Accreditation and certification play a vital role in selecting a family mediator. These credentials demonstrate that the mediator has undergone rigorous training and has met specific standards of competence and professionalism. Accreditation and certification provide reassurance that the mediator possesses the necessary skills and knowledge to handle complex family disputes effectively.

  • (b)  Ensuring Adherence to Ethical and Professional Standards

    Accreditation and certification often come with a set of ethical and professional standards that mediators must adhere to. These standards ensure that the mediator maintains a high level of professionalism, confidentiality, and impartiality throughout the mediation process. By selecting a mediator who adheres to these standards, you can have confidence that the mediation will be conducted with integrity and fairness.

  • (c)  Accessing Qualified and Experienced Family Mediators

    Accreditation and certification processes often require mediators to meet certain experience requirements. This means that accredited and certified mediators have demonstrated their competence by successfully completing a certain number of mediations and acquiring practical experience in handling family disputes. By choosing an accredited mediator, you can have peace of mind knowing that you are working with a qualified and experienced professional.

  • (d)  Seeking Family Mediators from Recognized Organizations

    When selecting a family mediator, consider mediators affiliated with recognized professional organizations or associations. These organizations often have established standards for their members and provide ongoing training and support. Mediators associated with reputable organizations demonstrate a commitment to their professional development and the field of mediation as a whole.

  • (e)  Continuous Professional Development and Learning

    Accredited and certified mediators are often required to engage in continuous professional development and learning. They attend workshops, seminars, and conferences to stay updated on the latest developments in the field of mediation. This commitment to ongoing learning ensures that mediators are equipped with the most effective tools and strategies to help parties navigate complex family disputes.

  • (f)  Accreditations and Designations in Ontario

    • (i)  FDRIO

      Although there are different organizations that may provide training for individuals to conduct mediations, the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (FDRIO) is notable for its standards of practice, training and certification for family dispute resolution processes. Personally, as a member of the Board of Directors of FDRIO, I know that I personally take pride in (a) the standards that it has developed in the best interest of the public and (b) its particular focus in the area of family law to ensure that mediators trained and certified by it are sensitive to and appreciate those aspects of mediation which are unique to family disputes. A directory of its certified members can be found here.

    • (ii)  ADR Institute of Ontario

      If you are considering an alternative dispute resolution process to resolve your family law dispute which involves arbitration as well as mediation (such the hybrid process of mediation-arbitration or Rapid Resolution), the same considerations regarding certification would apply to choosing a mediator-arbitrator who is also a certified arbitrator.  In Ontario, the ADR Institute of Ontario provides training standards and accreditation procedures that contribute to the development of a community of ADR practitioners across Ontario that is competent, well educated and highly professional in delivering alternative dispute resolution services to its users. As a long-standing member of the ADR Institute of Ontario, I can personally speaking to the high standards which it maintains.

    • (iii)  Law Society Certified Specialist

      As with mediators and arbitrators, certification reflects that certain standards have been met with respect to lawyers. Since the issues to be resolved through family mediation are primarily family law matters, family mediators are generally lawyers who practice in the area of family law.  Although all lawyers practicing in Ontario are licensed to practice by the Law Society of Ontario, lawyers are not commodities and not all lawyers are equal any more than all mediators are equal.  The Law Society of Ontario has developed a Certified Specialist Program which recognizes lawyers who have satisfied knowledge requirements and established standards of experience in their practice area and have consistently upheld exemplary standards of professional practice. A lawyer designated as Certified Specialist is recognition that the designated lawyer is accomplished in their particular practice area and a leader in their field.  As at the time of writing, there are 56 lawyers in Ontario which are designated as a Certified Specialists in family law.   A directory of these specialists can be found here.

    • (iv)  Counselling Degree

      In addition to the foregoing, it is worthwhile determining, whether or not a mediator you are considering has any additional accreditation’s or certifications that may be helpful in resolving your family disputes.  For example, I have a Masters degree in Counselling, which reflects particular expertise and skills I have recognizing and addressing emotional dynamics and history of spouses when mediating solutions, as well as, ensuring that difficult personalities, whether domineering, narcissistic or otherwise, do not the obstruct the parties from resolving their issues.

6. Why Experience Matters

In addition to certifications that reflect training and a certain degree of expertise, experience is a key factor in the effectiveness of a family mediator. An experienced mediator has seen and had the opportunity to handle a wide variety of different cases, deal with different types of conflicts, and work with diverse individuals and families including high conflict and narcissistic personalities. They have developed a deep understanding of the dynamics of family disputes and the nuances of the mediation process. They can draw on their experience to manage complex situations, navigate difficult issues, and guide parties towards a resolution.

7. Understanding the Mediator’s Approach and Style

Every mediator has their own approach and style. Some mediators may take a more directive approach, while others may be more facilitative. Some may focus on the legal aspects of the dispute, while others may emphasize the emotional and relational aspects. It’s important to understand the mediator’s approach and style and ensure that it aligns with your needs and expectations.

8. Practical Considerations in Choosing a Family Mediator

In addition to the family mediator’s qualities and qualifications, there are several practical considerations that can influence your choice of a family mediator.

  • (a)  Cost and Financial Arrangements

    The cost of family mediation can vary depending on the mediator’s fees, the complexity of the case, and the length of the process. It’s important to understand the mediator’s fee structure and financial arrangements. Some family mediators charge a flat fee for the entire process, while others charge an hourly rate. Make sure to discuss the cost upfront and ensure that it fits within your budget. In most circumstances, costs are defrayed to some extent by the parties mutually agreeing to split the family mediator’s fees for the family mediation.

  • (b)  Location and Accessibility

    The location of the mediator’s office can be a practical consideration, especially if you anticipate multiple family mediation sessions. Choose a mediator whose office is conveniently located and easily accessible. If physical meetings are not feasible, check if the mediator offers online mediation services.

  • (c)  Availability and Scheduling Flexibility

    The family mediation process requires time and commitment from all parties involved. In some instances, a single family mediation session lasting a half- to full day are sufficient to resolve the family issues in dispute.  However, there may be issues that arise from time to time (e.g. changes to parent access schedule) that require further mediation rather than trying to resolve the issue through the courts.  Accordingly, it is important to choose a family mediator who is available and flexible in terms of scheduling. They should be able to accommodate your availability and provide options for meeting times that work for all parties.

9. The Mediator’s Role in Different Types of Family Disputes

Family mediators can assist in resolving a variety of disputes. Their role can vary depending on the nature of the dispute and the specific issues involved.

  • (a)  Divorce and Separation

    In cases of divorce and separation, the mediator helps the parties navigate the complex process of ending their marital relationship. They facilitate discussions on various issues such as division of assets, spousal support, and, if applicable, parenting and child support. The mediator’s role is to ensure that both parties have a voice in the process and that the final agreement is fair and equitable.

  • (b)  Parenting Decisions and Parenting Plans

    When it comes to disputes involving children, the mediator’s role is crucial. They help parents develop a parenting plan that prioritizes the best interests of the children. The mediator facilitates discussions on issues such as decision-making and schedules for children. Their goal is to help parents reach an agreement that minimizes conflict and provides a stable environment for the children.

  • (c)  Financial and Property Disputes

    Financial and property disputes can be some of the most contentious issues in family mediation. The mediator helps the parties identify their financial interests, understand their legal rights and responsibilities, and explore options for resolving their disputes. They facilitate negotiations on issues such as property division and financial support.

10. Evaluating Potential Mediators: Questions to Ask

  • When evaluating potential mediators, it’s important to ask questions that will help you assess their suitability for your case.  Your questions may include:
  • What training have they received in family mediation?
  • How many years of experience do you have as a family mediator?
  • How many cases similar to yours have they handled?
  • Questions about their approach to mediation
  • What is their approach to mediation? Are they more directive or facilitative?
  • How do they handle power imbalances between parties?
  • How do they ensure that both parties have a voice in the process?
  • Questions about practical matters (cost, availability, etc.)
  • What are their fees and how are they structured?
  • What is their availability for mediation sessions?
  • Do they offer online mediation services?
  • These questions will help you gain a better understanding of the mediator’s qualifications, approach, and practical arrangements, enabling you to make an informed decision.

11. Cultural Sensitivity and Diversity in Mediation

  • (a)  Recognizing the Significance of Cultural Sensitivity in Mediation

    In mediation, cultural sensitivity plays a vital role in ensuring effective communication and understanding between parties. Cultural backgrounds, values, and beliefs can significantly influence how individuals approach and perceive conflicts. Recognizing the significance of cultural sensitivity allows mediators to navigate these differences with respect and openness. By acknowledging the diverse cultural perspectives involved, mediators can foster an inclusive and productive mediation process.

  • (b)  Assessing the Mediator’s Ability to Navigate Cultural Differences

    When choosing a family mediator, it is essential to assess their ability to navigate cultural differences. Look for mediators who demonstrate cultural competence and possess knowledge of diverse backgrounds. They should have experience working with individuals from various cultural backgrounds, showing an understanding of cultural nuances, communication styles, and potential biases. Effective mediators actively seek to bridge cultural gaps and facilitate meaningful dialogue, promoting mutual understanding and respect.

12. Considering Client Compatibility and Comfort

  • (a)  Evaluating the Mediator’s Ability to Establish Rapport

    Establishing rapport is a fundamental aspect of successful mediation. When selecting a family mediator, evaluate their ability to build rapport with clients. A skilled mediator can create a comfortable and trusting environment, making parties feel at ease during the mediation process. Look for mediators who actively listen, demonstrate empathy, and show genuine interest in understanding the parties’ concerns. The ability to establish rapport facilitates open communication and enhances the potential for positive outcomes.

  • (b)  Assessing the Mediator’s Empathy and Understanding

    Empathy and understanding are essential qualities for mediators to possess. They should be able to recognize and validate the emotions and experiences of the parties involved. Assess a mediator’s empathy by considering their ability to listen attentively, show compassion, and refrain from judgment. A mediator who demonstrates empathy can help parties feel understood and supported throughout the mediation process, leading to more constructive and collaborative discussions.

  • (c)  Prioritizing Client Comfort and Trust in the Mediator

    Client comfort and trust should be a top priority when selecting a family mediator. Parties involved in mediation often share personal and sensitive information, making it crucial for them to feel comfortable and secure. A mediator who prioritizes client comfort creates a safe and confidential space for open dialogue and problem-solving. Consider mediators who demonstrate a commitment to maintaining confidentiality, respecting boundaries, and fostering an atmosphere of trust. When clients feel comfortable and trust their mediator, they are more likely to actively participate and engage in the mediation process.

13. Final Thoughts

  • (a)  Recap of the Key Factors in Choosing a Family Mediator

    Choosing the right family mediator is a crucial decision that can significantly impact the outcome of your family dispute. The key factors to consider when making this choice include the mediator’s communication skills, impartiality, problem-solving abilities, and emotional intelligence. Their experience, specialized training, and approach to mediation are also important considerations. Practical matters such as cost, location, and availability should not be overlooked.

  • (b). Encouragement to Prioritize Finding the Right Mediator for a Successful Resolution

    The process of resolving family disputes can be emotionally charged and complex. Having the right mediator can make the process smoother and more manageable. Therefore, it’s essential to prioritize finding a mediator who aligns with your needs and expectations. Remember, the goal is not just to resolve the dispute but to do so in a way that respects everyone’s interests and preserves relationships.

  • (c). Time to Begin the Search

    Now that you are equipped with the knowledge of what to look for in a family mediator, it’s time to begin your search. Take your time, ask the right questions, and trust your instincts. The right mediator for your family is out there.

For further information regarding family mediation, see our Family Mediation: Resolving Family Law Disputes – An Essential Guide.

Contact Cheryl for any inquiries you may have regarding family mediation, arbitration, mediation-arbitration or her unique service, Rapid Resolution – the One Day solution.

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Cheryl Goldhart is a mediator who can make a difference in resolving your family disputes with her expertise, experience, and empathetic approach.

  • With nearly four decades of experience in family law, Cheryl brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her practice.
  • She holds a Masters degree in counselling, adding a unique dimension to her approach in handling family disputes.
  • Cheryl is recognized as a Certified Family Law Specialist by the Law Society of Ontario.
  • As a mediator, Cheryl is an Accredited Family Mediator by the Ontario Association for Family Mediation.
  • As an arbitrator, Cheryl is a Designated ADR Professional by the ADR Institute of Ontario,.
  • Her contributions and excellence in the field of Family Law have earned her numerous awards, including the prestigious Ontario Bar Association’s Award For Excellence In Family Law.

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