I get many calls from people wanting to know if they should have an attorney at the mediation.
The first question I ask is whether someone already has an attorney in their case. If they do, then whether the attorney will be there or not is something that they need to work out with the attorney. When I am the attorney representing a client, if the client cannot afford for me to be during the mediation in person, I always make sure that my calendar is clear for the mediation. I stay in my office so they can call me when they have questions or want to run a settlement offer by me. It is better if they can afford for me to be there, but if they can’t, having me by phone is much better than not having me at all. If you are represented by an attorney, he or she will likely have to sign any agreement that is reached at mediation so they must be involved in some form.
If a person does not have an attorney, they can choose to hire one or not. Generally speaking, if the other side has an attorney, you should have one too. It can be very overwhelming to know that the other person is there with someone who knows the law, and you are by yourself. As a mediator, I have seen people reject what I felt was a good offer because they felt that because the other party has an attorney, it must be an unfair offer. If the other side does not have an attorney it is more your choice whether you bring yours or not. In circumstances where things are highly contentious, there are protection orders or past domestic violence, I highly suggest that you have your attorney with you.
If you cannot afford to have an attorney with you at mediation, one option is to pay for an hour or two with an attorney prior to the mediation. They can give you a good idea of what your rights are, what sort of issues need to be resolved, and what offer would be a fair offer. Some attorneys will meet with you, advise you, and then be available by phone if you need to call them during mediation. The cost for this is far less than having an attorney drive to the mediation, sit with you the whole time and then return to their office. Any agreement that is reached at mediation can be emailed to the attorney for review. They can offer advice to you on the proposed agreement and suggest additional provisions to protect your interests. This is the least expensive way to be represented for mediation. It is well worth paying someone for a couple hours of their time.
Mediating issues like custody, child support, and division of assets and debts, can be highly emotional. The best thing you can do for yourself is to be prepared by having met with an attorney beforehand. Having an attorney there in person can give you more peace of mind and make you feel more comfortable. If you can afford to have someone there, you should have them there.