September 12, 2013

Choosing a Professional: Should They Have All the Answers, Or All the Right Questions?

Mediation has lots of positives: you and the other person together control the outcome, your values can be discussed as part of the picture, and it’s generally less expensive and more efficient than working in the legal system.  But that doesn’t mean mediation is for everyone.  One important idea to contemplate when deciding whether you’re going to mediate or work with traditional attorneys is whether you want your professional to be facilitative or directive.

A facilitative professional’s skill is rooted in asking all the right questions.  A mediator’s responsibility is to educate his or her clients with any salient information they may need to make the highest quality decision, whether it’s the legal information of a mediator-attorney, or the guidance of a mediator-mental health professional.  Once that has been accomplished, a mediator’s most important task is to guide his or her clients’ decision-making process with questions.  Is what you’re asking for consistent with your goals of an amicable divorce? Could we find a way to meet each person’s goals? Is there a way look at this situation that makes compromise feel like a win? If you don’t develop an agreement with the other person, what are your options?

In contrast, a directive professional’s skill is rooted in having all the answers. Attorneys actually take the lead in a legal environment, where they “represent” you and your interests.  It is not their job to explain all the nuances of legal options and subtleties.  It’s their job to get you the best result possible based on business-like markers such as the most money possible or the most time with the kids possible.  It’s not an attorney’s job to focus on the quality of his or her client’s co-parenting relationship after the divorce, or the high cost of their legal fees.  Over the years I’ve had more than a few traditional attorneys tell me that they ignore their clients’ entreaties to be amicable saying, “Oh, in the first stages of grief they all want that…and then reality sets in a few years after the divorce about how hard it is to survive financially in the Bay Area and that their ex is never going to be nice about the kids….and you know what? They’re grateful I got them everything they had coming to them.”  All the implications of that statement aside, at the heart of many a directive professional is that they know what’s best for their clients, more so than the clients themselves.

But let’s not take the difference between facilitative and directive professionals to be a conversation about good versus bad.  It’s all about what’s the right fit for you and your spouse.  If you’re concerned about having lawyers or a judge decide how you share your children, or you want to work things about between the two of you, maybe a facilitative professional is the right professional for you. If you’re emotionally devastated by the divorce transition, or your spouse has abused you, maybe a directive professional is the right professional for you.

So when thinking about what kind of divorce process will best serve you, first figure out whether you want to be working with a facilitative or directive professional.  Keep in mind when meeting with a possible professional that there are gradations within each type, meaning there are mediators whose style is more directive than the norm, and attorneys who do their best to keep in mind their client’s goals.  So ask lots of questions to make sure you’re getting the right balance of overall approach and personal style.

Her intelligence goes without saying.

Unmani’s level of fluid skill and preparation reveals her complete dedication for helping others find their way through the legal mazes of our society. Her intelligence goes without saying. I agree with previous clients’ testimonials about her kindness and empathy for her clients; you really do feel that she is invested in you. Couldn’t recommend her more…

- Scott Z.
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