Becoming a Family Law Mediator
|Degree Level||Varies; certificate and graduate degrees available; law degree may be preferred|
|Degree Field||Varies; conflict studies, mediation, law, negotiation, or related field|
|Licensure/Certification||Requirements vary by state; all states require that lawyers be licensed|
|Experience||Varies; employers typically look for applicants with law and related experience|
|Key Skills||Critical-thinking, negotiation, writing, analytical reasoning, research, decision-making, listening, persuasion and complex problem-solving skills; knowledge of law and government, ability to use legal research engines such as LexisNexis or Westlaw and project management and accounting software|
|Salary||$58,020 (2015 median for a mediator)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014), O*NET OnLine, Mediation Training Group, Inc.
A family law mediator helps families resolve disputes out of court. This discord may concern relationships within a family, child custody arrangements or divorce agreements. The mediator might set up appointments with the parties involved for arbitration, facilitate communication between them, and interview those involved in the dispute. They may negotiate between parties to reach an agreement and prepare the settlement for signatures. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that many employers of family law mediators require or prefer applicants who are experienced attorneys. Travel may be required to neutral locations, and many mediators fulfill their duties by working part-time. Some have additional careers beyond mediation.
Family law mediators should have a few key skills including critical-thinking, negotiation, writing, listening, and research skills. These professionals should also have knowledge of law and government and an ability to use legal search engines and accounting software. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that mediators in general earned a median annual salary of $58,020 in 2015.
Earn Undergraduate Degree
There is no specific undergraduate field of study designed to prepare individuals to work as family law mediators. Bachelor's degree programs are available in areas that include child development, family studies, and human development. These programs may include coursework that introduces students to the disputes that can arise within families, which could make working as a family law mediator easier.
Some schools and colleges offer undergraduate students the ability to complete a certificate program of study in mediation or dispute resolution. These programs may include courses in negotiation and bargaining, conflict management, and interpersonal communication. Mediation certificate programs can provide students with a foundation in mediation practices.
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Consider Law School
Although not required to work as a family law mediator, attending law school and earning a JD may make an individual eligible for more job positions. The decision whether to attend law school can be made while completing an undergraduate degree program.
Law schools require applicants to submit their Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores along with their applications. This exam, which most students take during their junior year of undergraduate study, is designed to test an individual's analytical reasoning skills. Several private companies offer prep courses that may help an individual increase their LSAT score.
Law school typically requires three years of full time study. First-year law students complete a curriculum of courses in basic laws subjects, such as tort and property law. Second- and third-year law students complete elective courses and clinical experiences. Mediation clinical experiences may be available to upper-level students. Family law is an elective course at most schools. Some law schools allow students to concentrate their studies in family law or mediation and dispute resolution.
Law school graduates usually become eligible to practice law after passing a state's bar exam. Although the format of each state's bar exam differs, many include multiple days of testing.
Earn Master's Degree
A master's degree program in mediation and applied conflict studies or in negotiation and dispute resolution can prepare an individual to work as a family law mediator. These approximately two-year long programs may be available online and might include coursework in culture, gender, and power differences in conflicts, ethics and impartiality, family mediation, and identity-based conflict. Most programs also include fieldwork experiences. Regardless of whether they complete a concentration, aspiring family law mediators might take elective courses in family law and mediation to learn about the areas related to their intended career.
Many colleges and professional organizations offer specialized mediation certification programs, which are typically 40-hour programs. These programs may be geared toward human resources or administration professionals as well as those in the legal profession.
Students in these programs will learn conflict resolution techniques, take part in role-playing activities to practice these skills, and learn how to evaluate their performance against industry standards. Students also discover common issues that arise in family mediation and learn the stages of a standard mediation process.
Most employers seek mediators with related experience either practicing law or working as a mediator. Lawyers and mediators can work for the government, court system, or private organizations. The more experience a mediator gains, the more likely they are to advance in their career.
To sum up, a family law mediator can come up in the field in a few different ways. They might complete an undergraduate program and go to law school, or they might enroll in a master's or certificate program with courses that relate to family law and mediation. In either case, law experience is typically required.