A Complete Guide to Divorce and Child Custody Mediation in Tennessee

Is Tennessee Divorce Mediation Right for You?

If you’re in the middle of a divorce or child custody dispute, it’s quite possible you’ve been told you need to mediate your case or go to mediation before the final trial.  If you’re like most, this might surprise you.  After all, if you could have worked this out on your own, you very well might not have hired a lawyer in the first place.  You might not even have a good understanding of what mediation actually is. While this page focuses on family law mediations in Tennessee, much of the information is applicable to the mediation of various civil disputes across the country.

What is Mediation?

Mediation, though increasing in popularity, is not nearly as well known as a legal trial.  Mediation is an alternative to trail. Indeed, it is the most common form of alternative dispute resolution.  Alternative Dispute Resolution refers to a group of disciplines (including mediation, arbitration, and neutral case evaluation) that have developed to aid litigants in resolving their legal issues prior to trial.

In mediation, a neutral person (the “mediator”) helps litigants settle their dispute.  The mediator is not acting as a decision-maker (judge) or advocate (lawyer), but is instead a facilitator.  The mediator’s job is to assist negotiations and help the parties reach a settlement to their dispute.

A legal dispute is resolved in one of two ways:

  1. It is settled by agreement, or
  2. It is litigated and a judge or jury makes a decision (In Tennessee family law, a judge will be making the decision the vast majority of the time).

A trial with two “bulldog” attorneys going at each other trying to embarrass the parties and witnesses might make for good television, but it’s usually not ideal for disputes where there is a continuing relationship.

Family law is a perfect example of this.  When the dust settles on a hotly contested divorce trial, the lawyers and judge move on to the next case; however, the parents are left to figure out how to co-parent a child after they just spent thousands of dollars tearing each other apart.  It is not a situation that fosters cooperation and accommodation; necessary skills, as anyone who has co-parented can attest.

Professionals in the area quickly realized that “scorched earth” litigation has disastrous effects on relationships that must continue beyond the resolution of the initial dispute.  Simply put, you may justifiably hate your ex-spouse, but if you share a child or children, that ex is going to be in your life until those children turn 18 (and really even beyond that–there will be graduations, marriages, and grandchildren for the rest of your life).  The method you use to resolve your divorce or custody dispute will color how you co-parent for years to come.

Mediation is an attempt to resolve these disputes before trial–before whatever bridges might be remaining are forever burned.

What is the Divorce Mediation Process?

Here are the 5 basic steps of what happens in a family law mediation:

1. Mediator Selection and Scheduling

It all starts by selecting your mediator.  Most attorneys have a short-list of mediators who they have come to trust.  The attorneys usually select the one they deem most likely to settle the dispute.  Some mediators are better suited to certain types of disputes or personalities of the parties.  For instance, a mother who cannot bear the idea of having to spend a night apart from her young child will respond well to a mediator who can show empathy and break through some of those emotional barriers to reach a settlement.  If a cocky and aggressive mediator attempted to “logic” her into an agreement, he would have a much lower likelihood of connecting with her and securing a settlement.

Mediations can also be difficult to schedule since there are the calendars of two attorneys, one mediator, and each party to take into account.  Because of this, mediators are often selected based on their availability.

If the attorneys cannot agree on which mediator to use, the Judge will typically make a determination.  While not unheard of, the selection of the mediator is usually not a point of contention.

2. Preliminary Information Exchange

Once selected, the mediator will typically send out an engagement letter confirming the day and time of the mediation as well as other housekeeping matters.  Most mediators request a “mediation statement” from each side. These statements are confidential statements submitted to the mediator prior to the mediation.  This gives the mediator a chance to review the facts of the case ahead of time and hit the ground running when the mediation starts. These statements are particularly valuable when a case is complex or unique in some way.

A good mediation statement will not only describe the facts at issue but also the personalities involved.  It is extremely valuable for a mediator to know on the front end if a person is unreasonably difficult or has some other personality trait that will impact reaching an agreement.

Not every attorney provides a mediation statement.  Some attorneys feel that they are saving their clients money by not taking the time to draft a statement.  Most mediators, though, will tell you that any time spent in preparing a mediation statement is recouped by shortening the time of the actual mediation.  Often, in more standard cases, the purpose of a mediation statement can be achieved by a simple phone call between the mediator and attorney.

3. Introductions / House Keeping / Ground Rules

At the beginning of mediation the mediator will introduce himself and make sure each party has a solid understanding of the purpose and process.  The mediator will clarify his role as a neutral facilitator and emphasize the confidentiality of the process.

The law wants people to settle their cases; it helps keep court schedules manageable and is generally better for everyone involved.  Because of this desire, the rules establishing the mediation process in Tennessee call for it to be a confidential process.

Confidentiality

Mediation is confidential in two separate ways.  First, the mediator is a secret-keeper. He will not say anything to one side that the other side does not intend for them to know.  In this way, parties should be at ease to freely discuss things with their attorneys and not worry about the mediator gleaning some weakness in their case and betraying that trust

The second way that it is confidential is that, if the dispute does no settle and advances to a contested hearing in court, neither party can reference what was proposed or said in mediation.  The mediator cannot be called to be a witness. The judge will never know what was offered.

What all this confidentiality means is that nothing a person does in mediation can hurt them in anyway.  If an agreement is reached, it will be one that the person in the dispute participated in the development of, reviewed with his attorney, and signed his name to it.  If there is no settlement, then the parties are free to seek whatever relief in court they choose; they are not handcuffed by any offer proposed during mediation.

Who Can Attend Mediation?

Often the mediator will need to clarify who can be present.  By default, only the named parties of the legal action and their attorneys may be present during mediation.  Some mediators are willing to allow additional individuals to be present, but will only do so if everyone is in agreement for this to happen.  There are two main reasons why additional people are generally not allowed to participate. First, as mentioned above, mediation is a confidential process and it is no one else’s business what people going through a divorce or child custody dispute are discussing.  Second, the involvement of other people almost always works against a settlement. People love to give their opinion of what others should do with their money and their children. However, at the end of the day, the parties of the litigation are the ones who have to live with their decisions and unsolicited advice should not be welcome.  An old adage among family law attorneys is “if you weren’t in the room when the baby was made, you don’t need to be in the room during mediation”.

Are There Ever Times When Someone Who is Not Part of the Legal Dispute is Allowed to Participate in the Mediation?

There are a few occasions where it might make sense for a third party to be present.  Below are some of the most common reasons this may occur; however, keep in mind that regardless of the situation, most mediators will not allow an additional person to be present unless all sides are in agreement.

Interpreters

In mediations where one of the parents does not speak English, there is an obvious need for an interpreter to be present.  With enough notice, this is simple to set up and is never objected to. Our attorneys have mediated several cases where an interpreter is needed.  As an extra service to our non-English speaking clients, we have their final documents professionally translated into their preferred language. This is particularly helpful when several years have passed since the resolution of the case and the clients need to clarify their understanding on a certain aspect of their paperwork; the client can immediately refer to the necessary document to gain the answer they need.

Grandparents

Many times young, new parents want to bring their own parents to mediation to act as moral support.  It’s understandable why a new parent would desire the input of his or her own parents. After all, the new parent could still be living with the grandparents and be financially dependent on them.  In situations like these, it’s even common for these grandparents to be the ones paying for the attorney and mediator. These grandparents are occasionally allowed to participate, so long as they are supporting their child and encouraging him or her to make their own decisions.  For this to be successful, the grandparent needs to act like a grandparent and not attempt to substitute their own ideas with those of the parents.

“New” Significant Others

Sometimes in a divorce or custody mediation a person wants to have their current significant other with them.  This additional person could be a spouse or a longtime boyfriend or girlfriend. For obvious reasons, the attendance of this third party is almost never allowed.

It is somewhat understandable why someone going through this type of legal action would want their current significant other present to assist them in developing a parenting plan that works for their home life.  After all, it makes sense that, before agreeing to a major custody modification, a litigant would want to vet the wisdom of such an important decision with the person closest to them. Unfortunately, having the “new” significant other present (no matter how long they have been a part of the family and how good their motives may be) is rarely conducive to settlement.  Inevitably, the presence of that third party is enough to dash the hopes of reaching an agreement as tensions are simply too high to focus on making forward progress and instead tend to concentrate on past misdeeds.

The mediator is the steward of the mediation process.  His job is to ensure a fair process (though not necessarily a fair result).  If at any time the mediator believes a third party is inhibiting settlement, the mediator has the authority to remove them.

Will I be in the Same Room as my Ex? (The Joint Session vs. Private Caucus Debate)

Every mediator handles things differently, however, the vast majority of divorce and family mediations in Tennessee are conducted with the parties in separate rooms.  Whether or not litigants should be placed in the same room is perhaps the most hotly discussed topic when mediators get together.

The Joint Session

Many mediators feel that mediations should start with everyone in the same room (the “Joint Session”).  In these types of mediations, the introductory remarks are given by the mediator while everyone is gathered in the same room.  Then, the mediator will ask each side to present opening remarks concerning their views of the case.  As discussed, mediation is not a court proceeding; as such these remarks should not attempt to be persuasive, but to succinctly outline the position of each side and the general outcome they are seeking.

After these opening remarks, the mediator will begin gathering information.  He might ask what the most recent proposal was and then request that the party receiving that proposal respond to it.  In this way the initial back and forth of mediation takes place while everyone is together. Parties typically don’t separate until one of them requests it or the mediator feels it is necessary to discuss things privately.

Mediators who rely heavily on the joint session tend to take more facilitative approach.  This means that they attempt to resolve disputes by focusing more on the feelings of the parties rather than the legal merits of their case.  Facilitative mediations are usually more therapeutic in nature.

Private Caucus and Separated Mediations

As stated, this is the most common form of family law mediation in Tennessee.  In these private mediations, the parties are kept separated during the entire process.  Each side stays in their own room and the mediator walks back and forth to discuss the various issues with each side privately.  While nothing is off the table, it is very rare for the parties to ever see each other in these types of proceedings.  If the dispute involves domestic abuse, the parties will always be kept apart.

Not much is different in the process between joint and private mediations, however, private ones tend to be much more relaxed and less formal since the parties do not need to posture for the benefit of the opposing side.

Every mediation is different and, like anything, there are pros and cons to each style.  Ultimately, the attorneys who practice family law in Tennessee and the parties themselves seem to vastly prefer separated mediation and that is almost certainly the type you will encounter if you are mediating a divorce or child custody dispute in Tennessee.

4. Proposal Exchanges, AKA “What Does a Mediator Do?”

After all the housekeeping and opening remarks are completed, it’s time for the heart of mediation to begin.  Typically, the mediator will start with the Plaintiff (the person who initiated the action) and begin asking questions to determine their position on the various issues.

Eventually the mediator will elicit a proposal from the Plaintiff and carry that proposal over to the Defendant.  Depending on the complexity and amount of the issues needing to be resolved, the mediator may take them individually, obtaining resolutions one at a time before moving on to other issues.  Often, however, it’s wise to “grab the bull by the horns” and take on one of the more important issues first as it’s not worth wasting too much time resolving minor issues when there won’t be an agreement on the major ones.

The mediator will take the Plaintiff’s proposal to the Defendant and convey it to them.  He will then start discussing the Defendant’s views on that proposal and whether he will accept or offer a counter-proposal.  This process is essentially repeated until there is an agreement (or not one) on all the issues…but that is an over-simplified description of what a mediator does.

A bad mediator might be described as a “binder courier” or, basically someone who simply goes back-and-forth between the rooms and conveys proposals.  A mediator who only does this won’t be asked to mediate often. After all, if the parties only needed a middle-man to convey proposals, they probably would have been able to settle their case prior to even going to mediation.

A good mediator is a good questioner.  The mediator will ask questions not only to determine the position of each party, but also to make them truly analyze why they want that particular outcome.  A good mediator will, through asking questions, make each side aware of the various pros and cons of each course of action.  Frequently the mediator plays devil’s advocate to make the party (and the party’s attorney) defend what they’re asking for.

A good mediator will also engage in technique called “reality testing”.  This is an exploration of what is likely to happen if the parties take their dispute to trial; or simply, the “what will a judge do” conversation.  After all, saying “no” to a final offer in mediation is the equivalent to saying “yes” to court.  The mediator will make each side discuss what might happen if their case was litigated.  There will be discussions about each side’s best case scenario, worst case scenario, and what is the most likely scenario. In mediator slang, these are known as BATNAs (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) and WATNAs (Worst Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement).

This type of discussion might play out like this:

Mother:  I want every Christmas morning with my child because my child has never been away from me on Christmas morning before and I don’t think we should change that.

Mediator:  I understand that.  I would want to spend every Christmas with my child too, but now that you’re divorcing, there are going to be a lot of difficult changes.  Do you think the father would also like Christmas morning?

Mother:  Probably, but he should have thought about that before he had an affair.

Mediator:  You’re right, and maybe if he would have we all wouldn’t be here today.  But we have to try on focus on moving forward and resolving things now or you’ll have to take this to court.

Mother:  I’m not afraid of court.

Mediator:  I’m not saying that you should be; but taking this to court will cost a significant amount of money, it will extend the process by several months, and it might not gain you anything that you couldn’t get today by agreement.  (Directing this question to Mother’s attorney) What do you think a judge would be likely to rule on Christmas morning.

Mother’s Attorney:  In just about every case I’ve ever seen, the judge will order that the parents alternate Christmas morning.  The mother will have it one year and the father will have it the next, on and on until the child turns 18.

Mediator:  So if that’s want is going to happen in court, why don’t I go and talk to the father and see where he stands on this.  It might be that he is willing to give you every Christmas morning in return for something that’s equally important to him.

The above was an illustration of reality testing.  It also introduced something that is common in mediation that would never happen in court- bargaining.  In trial, a judge will simply make a decision.  In mediation, parties can attempt to bargain and trade one aspect of their co-parenting plans for another.

These are some of the things mediators do to help resolve disputes.  Every mediation is different and a good mediator will adapt both his technique and demeanor to best address the needs of the parties.

What Skills are Necessary to be a Good Mediator?

First, a good mediator needs to have some degree of subject-matter expertise on the type of dispute he is mediating.  As discussed above, a substantial part of the mediation process are the discussions concerning what is likely to happen if the case is not resolved and has to go to court.  Because of this, even the most skilled therapist or counselor would be hard-pressed to resolve a family law dispute if they didn’t have a working understanding of the underlying law.  Thus, a divorce mediator needs to be familiar with local divorce law just as a personal injury mediator needs to be familiar with that area of law and so on…

Equally important to knowledge on the law of the dispute, a good mediator must possess a wide-range of soft skills.  The most knowledgeable and skilled divorce attorney may be a terrible mediator. The same skills that make a good litigator are vastly different from the skills that make a good mediator.  This isn’t to imply that good lawyers can’t be good mediators and vice versa (indeed there are many excellent attorney-mediators out there), but the two roles rely on different skill-sets.

Of paramount importance, a good mediator must be empathetic.  The mediator, in an incredibly short time, must be able to connect with people going through emotional hell.  Not every person needs the same kind of treatment from the mediator. Some people need a mediator who will hold their hand and guide them through the resolution; other people, believe it or not, need a mediator who will tell them that they are a jerk and suggest that they settle their dispute before a judge sees just how big of a jerk they are and throws the book at them.  A good mediator has the ability to switch demeanors in the time it takes to get from one room to the other.

A good mediator must be patient.  Although an experienced mediator might have dealt with near identical disputes hundreds of times, for the people at that mediation their matter is the most important thing in their world.  It is intensely personal and novel to them. They need time to vent, process, and, ultimately, find peace with final outcome. Even though a mediator might know exactly how a mediation will be resolved, the mediator cannot simply “skip to the end” and throw out the ultimate resolution as the parties simply aren’t ready to hear it and probably won’t agree to it.

Active listening is also a key attribute of a successful mediator.  The ability to pay close attention to what parties are saying (or perhaps what they are not saying) goes a long way to steering the discussion towards resolution.

Through patience, empathy, and active listening, the mediator will build trust with each side to help them buy into the process and prime them for a settlement.

5. Resolution or Impasse (What Happens After Divorce Mediation)

Eventually, after several rounds of negotiations, one side will make a “final offer”.  In doing this, they are saying “agree to this or we’ll see you in court”.  While there’s nothing legally binding about the phrase “final offer” and you sometimes see a party bluffing; generally speaking, a final offer is truly the last offer.

If the offer is accepted, an agreement has been reached and, depending on the time of day, the attorneys will either draft the final paperwork or draft a “Memorandum of Understanding”.  A Memorandum of Understanding is a loose outline of the agreed-upon terms that each party signs.  It is meant to be a legally binding placeholder agreement until there is time to draft the actual legal documents that resolve the dispute.

Most experienced mediators have a horror story of resolving a dispute at the end of a hard day of negotiations and allowing the parties to leave without signing anything, only to learn the following day that one of the parties has backed out of the deal.  It only takes that happening once before attorneys and mediators develop a rule to never leave mediation with an agreement that has not been signed.

Generally, if an agreement isn’t reached on every issue, the entire dispute is considered unresolved and it will escalate to the next form of dispute resolution (in Tennessee family law, this is typically a trial, but it could be a deposition or some other form of discovery first).  However, if the parties have reached an agreement on one or more issues, they may elect to bind themselves to those agreements and go to trial on the unresolved issues only.

Obviously, although most do, not every dispute settles in mediation.  If, after enough time and effort has been spent so that everyone has mediated in good faith, there still isn’t an agreement, the mediator will declare an impasse.  This simply means that the mediation is over and that the case did not settle.

It is fairly common for a mediation to conclude without an agreement, then for one of the parties to sleep on things for a day or two and ultimately agree to the last offer that was on the table.  Keep in mind, however, that parties are not required to keep offers open once the process has ended.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Divorce Mediation?

Just like every other aspect of a divorce or child custody dispute, you do not need a lawyer to represent you; however, having one brings with it obvious benefits.  Having a lawyer is the only way to ensure that your rights are being protected.

Once again, it is important to clarify the mediator’s role:  they are required to insure a fair process, but not necessarily a fair result.  A mediator will not prevent a party from agreeing to something stupid; in fact, a mediator will not even notify the person that they are contemplating agreeing to something stupid.  The mediator’s job is to fairly facilitate the resolution of a dispute, not to protect someone from agreeing to (or refusing to agree to) something that will harm / help them.

In most mediations, both sides are represented.  It is also common for both sides to be unrepresented.  In these situations, neither side is in a position to afford an attorney, but they still need the assistance of a mediator to reach an agreement.  In both of these instances there is an essentially equal balance of power and neither side should feel inferior.

Finally, it is also common for one party to have an attorney and the other one not to, however, the unrepresented person needs to be very cautious.  They are at an obvious disadvantage and, while they don’t need to fear being embarrassed or intimidated to the extent they would if they were going to court, a mediator will not protect them.

Occasionally, a person who has retained a lawyer to represent them during the divorce will attend mediation without their lawyer in an effort to save money.  Usually the attorney is on “standby” and available via phone in case an agreement is reached and it’s time to review a drafted document.  While this may seem like the best of both worlds, it’s best not to be penny wise and pound foolish.  Simply put, if you can afford to hire an attorney, you can afford for that attorney to represent you during mediation.

In short, like with every aspect of Tennessee family law, if you want to ensure that you have an advocate in your corner who will advise you and represent your interests, hire a local lawyer familiar with Tennessee divorce and custody law.

How Much Does Divorce Mediation Cost?

As with all things, price is often a consideration.  One of the great advantages to mediation is that it has the potential to save you a lot of money.  However, this isn’t to imply that it is an inexpensive process.

Typically, a mediator will charge an hourly rate that is equally split by each side.  It is also common for mediators to charge a minimum fee, generally three or four hours of time.  This represents the cost of blocking off a significant portion of their day when they could be working on other paying matters.  Some mediators charge in half-day and full-day increments.

Most mediators in the middle Tennessee are charge between $200 and $350 an hour.  Therefore, if a mediator charges $200 per hour and the mediation lasts 4 hours, each side will pay $400.

Keep in mind that the attorneys representing their clients are also billing time.  In total, a participant is generally paying the hourly rate for their attorney and 50% of the mediator’s hourly rate.  When there is a large disparity between incomes, it is not uncommon for the financially superior party to pay the entire cost of mediation.

While this may seem like a staggering amount of money for someone who cannot afford an attorney or who can barely afford the one they have, the hope is that in one day a dispute can be resolved that would otherwise take tens of hours litigating through trial.

Those needing mediation services in the Columbia, Tennessee area are particularly lucky to have a nonprofit organization known as The Mediation Center available.  The Mediation Center is a community dispute resolution center.  Its fees are based on a sliding scale determined by each party’s income.  These fees are significantly lower than what a private mediator would charge.

The Nashville Conflict Resolution Center in Nashville and Community Resolution Center in Knoxville are other great nonprofit dispute resolution centers that can help resolve disputes at affordable rates.

Is Mediation Required in a Tennessee Divorce?

In Tennessee, parties in a divorce or child custody dispute are required to attempt mediation before proceeding with a trial.  According to Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-4-131 the court shall order the parties to participate in mediation unless one of the listed exceptions applies.  Typical exceptions are that either party is unable to afford the cost or the court determines that the mediation is substantially likely to result in impasse.

Practically speaking, it would be very unusual for a court to waive the mediation requirement absent some notable extenuating circumstances.

One big exception to the mediation requirement is when there has been domestic violence.  In these instances, mediation will only be required if the victim chooses to engage in it, and only then, if it is conducted by a mediator specially trained in domestic and family violence.

What are the Advantages of Mediation?

If you’ve made it this far, you can already guess at many of the advantages of mediation.  Essentially, it has the potential to make every aspect of a difficult process better.  The chief complaints of people going through a divorce are the cost, time it takes, and emotional toil.  These factors are generally all related to one another. The longer a family law dispute takes, the more money it costs and the more of an emotional burden it becomes.

A divorce, from the time of filing the initial document to the final hearing, can easily take over a year to resolve.  In comparison, some mediations can be conducted before any discovery or contested hearing occurs.  This will, undoubtedly, save the parties thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Even when a mediation must take place well into the divorce process and after the parties have already spent a substantial amount of money, there is a likelihood for a significant savings.  With rare exception, the most costly period of any litigation is preparation for and participation in trial.  Being able to avoid that aspect of a family law dispute will greatly reduce the cost.

Resolving disputes faster also reduces the stress and emotional struggle that comes with being in the middle of contested litigation; especially contested litigation over something as important as your children, retirement, and property.

Another benefit of mediation is its privacy.  Some may not be aware, but divorce and other custody proceedings in Tennessee are public record.  Anyone can go into the local court clerk’s office and read through every document that has been filed in your case.  Occasionally, to protect the innocence of a minor child, a court may order that certain items be sealed, but this is an exception to the rule.  Most documents, no matter how embarrassing or hurtful, are available to the general public.  An early resolution to a case may preempt the filing of certain documents and keep the information and allegations private.

What are the Disadvantages of Mediation?

They are few disadvantages.  The cost has already been addressed.  If a case does not settle, then the money spent could be considered “wasted”.  That said, around 80% of cases settle on the day of mediation and another 10% settle shortly thereafter, based on the progress that was made.  Therefore, for the vast majority of cases, mediation saves time and money rather that wastes it.

What is a Rule 31 Mediator?

You may have seen the designation “Rule 31 Mediator” accompanying some attorneys business cards or email signatures and wondered what that meant.  A “Rule 31 Mediator” is simply an individual (you do not need to be an attorney to become a Rule 31 Mediator) who has met baseline education and training criteria.  This criteria is outlined in Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31.

In 1992 the Tennessee Supreme Court created a commission to investigate alternative dispute resolution in Tennessee “with a view toward the use and implementation of procedures to expedite and enhance the efforts of the courts to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of disputes.”  From the start the commission was investigating ways to achieve resolutions to disputes outside of the traditional methods that were fast and affordable.

The recommendations of the commission lead to the enactment of Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31.  This rule created a uniform process for referring cases to mediation as well as training and credentialing mediators.

Keep in mind that the mediator requirements of Rule 31 are what the Tennessee Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission has determined are the minimum qualifications that an individual possess to be a quality mediator.  However, not all Rule 31 Mediators are equal.

Similar to how every attorney has passed the bar, but within that segment are good and bad attorneys; the same is true for Rule 31 Mediators.  When the Rule was first initiated, the extra credential became somewhat of a vanity designation for some attorneys to possess.  Some lawyers and other professionals became Rule 31 mediators with the intention of adding mediations as another revenue stream for their profession, but those aspirations were never fully realized.  Many of these individuals would struggle to tell you the last time they mediated a case.

When looking for a good Tennessee mediator to help you resolve your divorce or custody matter, determining if they are Rule 31 certified needs to be where your search begins, not where it ends.  Good follow-up questions to ask are:

  • How many mediations have you conducted in the last year?
  • What was the percentage of your mediations that settled?
  • Do you keep parties separated or do you believe in putting them in the same room?
  • How do you charge and what forms of payment do you accept?
  • Are you trained to mediate family law disputes where there has been domestic violence?

If the mediator you are looking to hire doesn’t have good answers to these questions, keep looking.

How Do Lawyers Feel About Mediation?

These days, the vast majority of lawyers have a favorable view of mediation.  Although some attorneys view it as a necessary evil and would prefer to just take their case to trial, most (especially in the family law area) have witnessed the potential it has to settle disputes and help maintain continuing relationships without burning bridges.

What are Parks, Bryant & Snyder’s views on Mediation?

If you’ve gotten this far, no doubt you’ve correctly surmised that we are fans of the mediation process, both as advocates and as mediators.

As attorneys, we take mediation seriously and prepare our cases and clients for them.  When the mediator is describing the mediation process to our clients, it is (at least) the second time they are hearing it.

We also prepare thorough mediation statements and provide them to mediators in advance so they have enough time to properly review them.  We treat this seriously and that greatly increases the likelihood of reaching a settlement in mediation that is favorable to our clients; thereby saving them time and money.

Columbia, TN Mediator Shawn Snyder receives an award from the Mediation Center.

Columbia, TN Mediator Shawn Snyder receives an award from the Mediation Center.

Shawn Snyder is our firm’s mediator and he can help you or your client’s divorce.  He is a Rule 31 General Civil Mediator.  He has also been specially trained in mediating domestic violence issues in divorce or other family law matters.

Shawn has always enjoyed helping people resolve their complex legal and emotional disputes.  While in law school, Shawn took multiple classes in mediation and other alternative dispute resolution courses.  He earned the highest grade in Arbitration Law in his entire class.

Before beginning his law practice in Tennessee, Shawn served as the Executive Director of The Mediation Center in Columbia, Tennessee.  In this capacity, he was primarily responsible for spearheading several programs that provided low income litigants with access to quality alternative dispute resolution services.

Shawn has successfully mediated hundreds of family law cases and it is rare for a week to go by where he isn’t sitting at a mediation table helping someone settle their divorce or child custody matter.   In 2018, he mediated 45 cases with a settlement rate of over 90%.

The conference room of Columbia, TN law firm Parks, Bryant & Snyder.

The conference room of Columbia, TN law firm Parks, Bryant & Snyder.

Shawn typically mediates at our offices in Columbia, TN.  However, he is willing to travel to offices throughout the middle Tennessee area including:  Franklin, Nashville, Murfreesboro, Pulaski, Lawrenceburg, Hohenwald, and Lewisburg.  Contact us if you would like for Shawn Snyder to mediate your Tennessee family law matter.