Family Law Mediation: How to End the Case from Hell


Part 2: Picking a Mediator

by Paula L. McCandlis

Do you have a family law case keeping you awake at night? You dread looking at anything related to the case such as an email, a letter, or the client. You feel the first signs of a migraine headache when you hear words associated with the case. You worry you will suffer from some post-traumatic stress syndrome after the case ends, if it ever ends. You question the decisions that led you to practice family law and you begin to plot your escape to another area of practice. I know these cases and feelings all too well. I want to give practical guidance on how to end this case from hell at mediation. In part one, I suggested getting to mediation as fast as you can.  In future essays, I will deal with preparing your client for mediation, preparing your case for mediation, what to do at mediation, what not to do at mediation, and how to tie up all the loose ends.

You have already spent time with your client and by now understand the contentious issues, how your client communicates, and hopefully you have created a plan to resolve your client’s legal issues. To accomplish this, you need to pick the right mediator.

There are good mediators and there are bad mediators. Good mediators are adept at resolving parenting plan issues. Good mediators understand financial issues. Good mediators give the parties a feeling of relief, absolution, and finality. Good mediators are drill sergeants exercising control over hostile combatants. Bad mediators are asleep at the wheel and clearly despise all family law issues. Bad mediators take too long. Bad mediators spend too much time arguing about minor personal property, i.e., who gets the toaster instead of discussing the big ticket items (homes, retirement, maintenance). Bad mediators also fail to spot potential disagreements and pitfalls.

Consider who is going to need the most convincing. Very few breakups are mutual and those that are typically have few disagreements. In the vast majority of break-ups someone is being fired from their job as a spouse. Many clients feel that they are being fired as a parent. They fight for time with their children. Which party is grieving the loss of the relationship and which party has already moved on, perhaps to a new relationship? The person who needs the most convincing needs a mediator tailored to meet their emotional demands. Many clients will not listen to someone younger than they are or someone who they do not consider an authority figure. The mediator needs to be flexible and able to connect with the parties, especially the party that needs the most convincing.

A good mediator should understand the process, the legal issues, and the communication styles of the clients. A good mediator has read the mediation statements as well as the case file. A good mediator knows when the parties can be in a room together and when they should be separated. A good mediator can predict what actions a court will take and why. A good mediator reviews the final agreements for completeness and accuracy. A good mediator finds a way through the disagreements to resolution. At Pacific ADR Consulting, we have great mediators. Let us know if we can help you.

This article is part two in a series on mediating difficult family law cases. Stay tuned for future articles in this series!


About Paula McCandlis

Paula McCandlis is a shareholder and co-managing partner at Brett McCandlis & Brown, PLLC with offices throughout Washington State (Bellingham, Mt. Vernon, Everett, Seattle, Vancouver, and Spokane). Her law office handles personal injury and wrongful death cases.

Ms. McCandlis has spent 20 years working as a trial attorney on cases that range from personal injury and wrongful death, insurance bad faith claims, criminal law, family law, juvenile law, civil commitments, real estate transactions, and appellate law. She has certifications to act as a mediator in civil cases, family law cases and collaborative law cases.

Ms. McCandlis served as a Pro Temp Superior Court Commissioner in Whatcom County for 5 years. In that capacity she presided over numerous settlement conferences. She knows the risks, rewards, and stress of taking a case to trial. Her experience and skills give her insights into how to reach mutually agreeable settlements. Ms. McCandlis joined the Panel of Pacific ADR Consulting in May, 2017.

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