Did you know that in the State of California there are no licensing requirements in order to be a divorce mediator? This is something that is easily overlooked, and if you're not careful it could cost you in the long run. It's important that you keep yourself well informed and are sure your rights are protected. Even if you are going through an amicable divorce and are confident your ex-spouse wouldn't do anything underhanded during the divorce negotiations, mistakes do happen and it is highly recommended that you have a family law attorney handle your divorce mediation.
A lot of family law mediators may be therapists or marriage consolers, and may have an educational background in psychology - all of which are excellent assets for a mediation. This is especially true when it comes to truly listening to what each side is saying and processing it in a way that is helpful to facilitation a solution that meets both parties' needs. However, and this is a big one, helping to resolve disputes during the divorce process doesn't necessarily mean that the mediator is aware of the law, and how it affects you.
Without this knowledge, the mediator could unknowingly guide you towards a resolution that seems fair on it's front, but in reality leaves you completely exposed legally. For example, a non-attorney mediator may not be familiar with the ATRO's (or Automatic Temporary Restraining Order) immediately put into place with every divorce that is filed. An unknowing mediator may tell one of the parties that it is okay to get a second mortgage or a HELOC on the marital residence in order to buy another piece of property or perhaps perform some remodeling on the family residence. This would directly violate the ATROs and could negatively affect the other party. An attorney would know the proper procedure for handling a situation like this and would be able to write up an agreement that was acceptable with the court.
Another example is with child custody. With most divorces one or both parties will move out of the family residence. This is something that needs to be done with extreme caution, especially when children are involved. Agreeing to a child custody plan where one party one has custody of their child(ren) once a week can negatively impact that party's ability to increase custodial time in the future.
Ultimately, whether you decide to use mediation or litigate your divorce in court, counsel from an experienced divorce attorney is always recommended. While at Richard Ross Associates we do recommend that you have an attorney completely handle your mediation or litigation, at a minimum we suggest you consult with an attorney so you are aware of your rights, and to review your settlement agreement prior to filing it with the court.