Knowledge Base

Divorce Mediation, Massachusetts Certification, and Why You Should Choose CMDR 


April 1, 2010
Written by Lynne C. Halem

Given the many times each week that we hear separating and divorcing individuals tell us, in so many words, that all mediators are the same, we felt compelled to address this assertion head on.  Obviously you have already gathered that we do not share this view of sameness.  Are all teachers the same?  Are all dentists, physicians, and lawyers the same?  Of course not.  If you think about the question for even a few seconds, you will conclude with us that mediators differ in skill, style, success, and end product in the same way, as do all others who are selling you their services.

We suggest that in addition to cost, you think of two essential bases for judging the difference between mediation services.

First, what is their knowledge base when it comes to the areas that you will be covering in your mediation?  Areas, in the arena of divorce, must include knowledge and facility in areas that deal with finances and taxes, child development and research in the area of custody, and, of course, the law.  Not only is a knowledge base important, but also equally important is the ability to integrate different facts and circumstances with the goal of devising solutions that are fair and workable and fit the family’s situation with the least negative impact – emotionally and financially.

In Massachusetts it is also important to know that some mediators have Massachusetts Divorce Certification.  To be certified in the Commonwealth there are educational requirements (graduate degrees), 180 hours of training (in basic mediation, in divorce finances, legal procedures, family psychological issues), 100 hours of face-to-face mediation experience (in at least 10 cases), 3 comprehensive typed memoranda of understanding, and every two years 20 hours of continuing education to be completed to maintain certification. 

So let’s assume that you find several individuals that you believe have a solid knowledge base in the areas that pertain to your circumstances.  What next?

Second, the mediator has to have the ability to apply his or her knowledge to your situation, and even more to the point, to be able to help you and your spouse to think creatively together.  The mediator must be able to facilitate communication and to help you reach agreements.  Strange as it may sound, knowledge without the ability to help people to integrate that knowledge into their own mindset and to apply information in the search for solutions is just about useless.  As such, the mediator needs to be a facilitator who is adept at helping individuals to communicate and to problem-solve.  Otherwise, you might as well put “the very knowledgeable person” you have found in a room with the directive of producing an agreement for you.

Now, to address the controversial issue of your final product.  Here there are many differences of opinion.  We, at the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution (CMDR), believe that your final agreement should be able to carry you into the future, should have provisions for adjustment as circumstances change.  We believe that in the long run, a comprehensive agreement will be the least expensive route.  We find it hard to understand how an agreement that deals only with the here and now and does not allow for adjustment is a good “buy”.  We find it hard to understand how injecting your family into a boilerplate format provides a workable agreement for the uniqueness of your family.  This is not to say that all agreements need the same kind of detail and thoroughness.  Of course not.  The very notion of uniqueness means that your agreement needs to be tailor-made to suit your circumstances and needs.

The final document that you take to court, regardless of whether it is simple and straightforward or more detailed, must be clear and definitive.  Nice as it may sound, agreements that repeatedly avoid specific terms and instead use vague clauses such as:  “The parties will cooperate in reaching agreement on…”, or “The parties will mutually determine…”, leave you with no guidance.  What if you fail to reach agreement?  Agreements that the parties are able to reach in the future are not the problem; disagreements are.  Clarity on dealing with dissention or even just differences of opinion will go a long way to keeping your future free from returns to court.

At CMDR, we offer our clients mediators who are experienced and especially skillful in helping people to craft agreements that are uniquely suited to their family and their family’s needs, concerns, and priorities.  We believe that after over 2000 cases, 28,000 hours, in the past 28 years, brings valuable experience upon which our clients and referrals need and depend.  With the guidance of our mediators you will learn communication skills that will help you navigate the future.  Moreover your agreement will include provisions for handling disagreements, as well as for dealing with the unexpected and unanticipated future.

We know, no matter how many times we hear it, that all mediators are not alike. We know, that you cannot calculate the cost of your mediation by comparisons of hourly rates.  As a cautious and cost-conscience buyer you need to do a full analysis of each mediator’s knowledge base and skills as a mediator; you need to undertake a careful consideration of what you are buying.  As with a house, or any other product or service, the real cost is not just the “sticker price”.  You need to think if there are annual maintenance costs, translated into returns to court or need for legal intervention, and too if the family’s lives together and separately will “run” smoother and better because of the care and thoughtfulness that you have given to crafting a written road map for the present and future.

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