Do Mediators Need Specific Subject Knowledge By Don Sinkov{4:36 minutes to read} Back in the 80s when I first started in mediation, I took the initial mediation training and then went out and tried to mediate every case I could possibly get to gain experience. After a while, you feel empowered, like you can do anything. I’m sure a lot of new mediators feel that way. No problem is too great for us to solve.

The Middle East?? No problem.

World Hunger?? No problem.

A friend of mine called me and said, “I have this divorce case, can you mediate it?” I explained that I didn’t know anything about family law, or how divorces work exactly, but I could help them agree on their settlement, because I’m a mediator

After looking at a proposal they had written, it quickly became clear to me that I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know about:

  • Pensions;
  • Divorce law in NY; or
  • How to construct a parenting plan.

I didn’t know anything that any divorce mediator has to know, let alone have years of experience under my belt. I was totally unprepared.

The transformative mediation approach I was using was successful as long as you didn’t need to know about the subject matter.  As soon as you needed specific knowledge, I was at a complete loss.

Since I’ve been specializing in divorce for the last 13 years, every day I read case law and discuss divorce with attorneys, other mediators and financial advisers, etc. I find that I’m still learning, refining and looking deeper into the field I’ve chosen.

I know there is a community of people doing transformative mediation who believe you don’t need specific subject knowledge, yet I was recently quoted in a blog article saying I believe you do need specific subject knowledge. Just being a mediator is not enough.

When a mediator has no specific subject knowledge and expertise to guide the client, the clients could be making some really horrible decisions. My job is not to make the decisions for them, but help them see the long reaching effects those decisions might have, and maybe further refine them in a way that makes more sense.

We are mediators, not super heroes. Let’s stick to what we do best in the areas in which we have specific subject knowledge.  I understand that it is important to empower clients by giving them information so they can make intelligent decisions. But a mediator without specific subject knowledge is like handing a client that is an inexperienced driver the keys to a high-performance sports car and telling them, “What can go wrong? Enjoy the ride.”

About Don Sinkov

Don Sinkov Your Divorce Mediator Westchester County, NY Putnam County, NY Phone: (914) 588-6258 eMail: