Key questions to ask a family law mediator before hiring

Couples who decide to settle family law disputes through a mediator should ensure the one they choose is properly trained and certified, Fredericton family lawyer Jennifer Donovan tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“I advise people to ask specific questions about their certifications to ensure they’re comfortable with their selection and that the mediator has the proper credentials,” says Donovan, principal of J. Donovan Law Group.

She says she plans to add mediation services to her firm after she attends the five-day Fundamentals of Family Mediation course in February.

“I want to offer more rounded services,” says Donovan, who has 14 years’ experience in family litigation.

“I don’t see myself as being a regular mediator,” she says. “I believe I have an excellent handle on what a judge would likely do, so I’m mediating from a place of knowledge and experience in the family law environment.”

Donovan says in recent years she’s frequently been asked to provide mediation in family matters, so the training will enable her to answer that call in the future.

And with the federal Divorce Act currently undergoing reform to encourage a more co-operative process, she says the timing is perfect to add mediation to her busy litigation practice.

In family law, a mediator acts as a neutral third party to help a couple come up with their own resolution, Donovan explains, adding the family court system docket is so backed up in New Brunswick, motions can take up to six months before they are heard by a judge.

“When families are going through a separation, six months is an eternity, and the situation can deteriorate quickly,” she says. “With mediation and collaborative law, families will have the opportunity to reach much faster resolutions because we don’t need to rely on the court system.”

While Donovan won’t begin mediation services until late February or early March, she continues to litigate court matters for people and provide collaborative services.

Her family practice also extends to the preparation of wills, something Donovan says people should think about either doing for the first time or updating when they’re going through a substantial change in their status.

“The fact that so many people don’t have wills boggles my mind,” she says, adding that many people think they don’t have enough assets to bother with the creation of a will.

“I always explain to clients that when you die without a will, you could put your family through a complex legal procedure,” Donovan adds. “I ask them to look at it this way: having a will prepared is a fraction of the cost that dying without one could cost your family.”

She also reminds parents of minor children of the importance of creating a plan for custody and guardianship requirements in their wills.

“Wills can alleviate the stress and anxiety on your grieving family,” says Donovan.

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