Courtesy of my west coast colleague Vicky Pinchon, the Toronto (Ontario, Canada) Star newspaper had an article about a mediator who caused far more harm than good. The article reads in part:

A Toronto-area family’s problems with the mediator they’d hired to work on their daughter’s messy divorce reached a nadir when her 6-year-old son came home with a bizarre story.

During a supervised visit with his father in a restaurant, the mediator told the waitress she was the little boy’s “mommy.”

“He was very distressed, very, because he didn’t know what was going on,” said a female family member, asking to remain anonymous because their case is still before the courts.

The family was aghast but initially didn’t complain. They were afraid to fire the mediator, whom they paid more than $15,000, because they feared a negative report in family court.

“Everybody told us, `Don’t make the mediator mad’,” she said.

When they finally did try to file a complaint they found they had nowhere to turn: mediators aren’t regulated in Ontario.

Instead, anybody can hang a shingle and plunge into a highly sensitive area of working with divorcing couples and their children at a time when most are financially and emotionally vulnerable.

The article further talks about lack of licensing and supervision of mediators.

It is equally true in the U.S. that anyone can hang a shingle and call themselves a mediator. There is no licensing or certification required to be a mediator — a point I think needs to be rectified by the States. Until that happens (and there are no widespread movements underfoot), how do you know who is a good mediator to hire?

You can find more details on my website, but some points to consider:

  • Has the mediator received formal training and did that training include actual mediations or co-mediation?
  • Does the mediator have training in the area you’re looking to resolve your dispute (divorce vs. elder vs. commercial)?
  • What style of mediation does the mediator use? (If your mediator can’t answer this question, he/she has no formal training.)
  • Is mediation the primary business of the mediator, or is this a side business?
  • Does the mediator get continuing education in mediation (not only in general law, therapy or other primary area of practice)?
  • Does the mediator belong to and are they active in the local/state professional mediator groups? (In NJ, those would be NJAPM and the ACR.)

What about being on rosters of various sorts (courts, EEOC, AAA, etc.)? To be eligible for most rosters, you generally must meet a checklist of training and experience. You are usually unsupervised and no one determines if you’re a “good” mediator before being admitted to the list or even after you’re admitted.

One other point to note: licensing does not guarantee competence or ethical behavior. Lawyers, doctors and accountants are all licensed professionals. You can view all the NJ attorneys who make it onto the ineligible list on the NJ Courts website. Doctors lose their licenses for malpractice and unethical behavior. CPA’s are disciplined for improper behavior. (Mediators can be sued for malpractice.)

If you have any further questions about my qualifications or qualifications of mediators in general, feel free to contact me.