Essential Skills and Innovative Approaches
for Family Mediators
Workshops & Speakers
Thank you to all of the speakers and presenters for this year’s lineup of great workshops.
Workshop 1: Establishing a Successful Mediation Practice
The decisions you make as you establish your practice will determine whether you build a profitable asset, as well as a financially and personally rewarding career. Speakers Laura McGee and Wendy Forrester have each taken different approaches in establishing successful mediation practices, and each approach has worked for them. As a mediator, you will need to make decisions that include billing practices, operating decisions and marketing approaches, such as whether to establish your mediation practice under your own name or brand yourself. Attendees will learn about innovative ways to set themselves apart in a competitive marketplace so they can accelerate the establishment of their practice. What can you do to set yourself part from your competition? The program will include: booking options to ease in scheduling, initial mediation consultation, tips to limit the risk of losing your status as a neutral, billing practices – flat fee mediations or hourly billing approaches, mediation agreements, marketing and branding your practice. The workshop will provide practical tools that will support you in your role as the mediator: online client intake and other practice management tools, payment options and other important considerations that will help to grow and operate your practice. The panelists will discuss how to define a successful mediation from the perspective of the mediator and the client and how to achieve client satisfaction.
Wendy Forrester, Attorney Mediator
Wendy Forrester is an attorney, mediator and legal educator. She maintains a private mediation practice with a focus on family mediation in Calabasas, California. Wendy has been a professional mediator since 1988. She received her J.D. from Southwestern University School of Law in 1985. Wendy served as the Associate Director and Mediation Coordinator of California Lawyers for the Arts where she resolved hundreds of arts and entertainment related conflicts as a mediator. Wendy trained and supervised volunteer mediators and law school students at California Lawyers for the Arts. Additionally, she developed a training program in conflict resolution and communications skills for at-risk high school students. Wendy instructed mediation courses, including Family Mediation and Beyond Reason, Working With Emotions in Mediation at University of California, Santa Barbara in the Mediation Certificate Program for several years.
Laura McGee, JD, LDA, Mediator
Laura McGee graduated from one of the top law schools in Canada, University of British Columbia, in 1984. She began her professional career as a personal injury attorney where she learned to work with clients in the midst of life altering tragedies. At the age of 32, Laura purchased the law firm she had been working for and expanded the practice. Laura teaches mediation trainings, mentors, and offers herself as a resource to other mediators. Since founding Leave Strong Divorce Services in January of 2011, Laura’s entire practice has been exclusively limited to divorce mediation and divorce coaching. Laura has become known for the compassion, wisdom, and attention to detail she brings to the divorce process.
Workshop 2: Innovative Ways to Build and Grow a Mediation Practice—And How to Make Money Too
The panel will discuss how to quickly establish a new mediation practice or provide an option to expand your current practice. The experience presenters will discuss a structure that will give new mediators the ability to open and run their mediation practice quickly and efficiently. Established mediators may benefit from this format if they are looking for a different way to grow their practice. Seeing your mediation practice as a business and not just an add-on service can help you grow and make money.
Topics will include how to dive deeper into some business concepts to make sure you are maximizing your income from your practice, and how to generate more income and keep that income steady while controlling your overhead.
In addition, workshop attendees will learn about the innovative use of the online platforms that allow mediators to greatly expand their client-base to include participants who are remote in location or otherwise unable or unwilling to attend sessions in person and will be provided with practical tips and ethical considerations for providing mediation clients with a seamless and responsibly conducted online mediation experience.
Susan Guthrie, Esq.
Attorney Susan E. Guthrie has been a practicing family law attorney in Connecticut for almost 30 years. After many years as a litigator, and seeing the negative impact on clients and their families of the adversarial approach, Attorney Guthrie opened her own practice focused on the non-adversarial approaches to resolving family law issues. She has established LA JOLLA MEDIATION in order to continue to bring the advantages of mediation to the residents of San Diego. Attorney Guthrie has also founded CT FAMILY LAW ONLINE to provide affordable family law advice and mediation to residents of Connecticut via an online platform.
Shannon Vajda, NCMT
Shannon is the CEO and owner of Pacific Coast Partnership, Inc. which is comprised of Pacific Coast Mediation and Pacific Coast Advocates. Shannon is also the creator of Mediation Practices in a Box, a product that includes processes, procedures, templates and training to give new mediators the ability to open and run their mediation practice quickly and efficiently.
Kathleen Coble, Attorney Mediator
Kathleen is a practicing family law attorney and mediator in Austin, Texas. She is boardcertified in family law and is a fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. She is also the owner and CEO of Book Mediation, which does online scheduling for mediators. Kathleen has a Bachelor’s Degree in International Business and Accounting, was a corporate accountant prior to law school, and spends time consulting with lawyers and mediators on best business practices.
Workshop 3: Building a Strong and Effective Parenting Plan
Custody and Visitation can be the most triggering and conflict creating components of any mediation involving children. Understanding the triggers and recognizing them when they show up can be the key for an overall successful mediation. Custody and Visitation are often the first components to mediation, quickly establishing a strong parenting plan can remove major obstacles to the other components of the mediation. The parenting plan creates the template for healthy boundaries and communication, sets the guidelines for temporary support and removes the children from the middle of any parental conflict. In this workshop Brook Olsen will equip the mediator with the specific understandings of what the predominant factors are that get in the way of parent’s reaching agreements regarding custody and visitation. To recognize the indicators of conflict and to be able to distinguish normal concerns and conflict from those of high conflict, in order to create an age appropriate parenting plan. This workshop will also give the mediator a template with the specific components to put in the parenting plan to avoid future disputes and further conflict. Topics to be covered include: Age appropriate parenting plans, Communication and Exchanges.
Brook Olsen, Founder/Director High Conflict Diversion Program
Brook Olsen founded the High Conflict Diversion Program in 2006 and continues to direct its evolution. Currently Brook is training new teachers throughout the USA to teach the High Conflict Diversion Program™ in their local communities. Brook is a Certified Parenting Educator with the International Network For Children and Families, a Certified Divorce Mediator, and Life Coach. Brook helps develop high conflict parenting programs for the San Diego Family Courts, and helps educate therapists and attorneys in high conflict divorce. Brook’s training includes six years of study with Dr. Michael Mamas in the field of transpersonal counseling, trauma counseling and meditation. Brook completed three years of training in trauma resolution through the Foundation for Human Enrichment with Peter Levine and is a certified Somatic Experiencing Practitioner.
Workshop 4: The Mental Health Professional in Mediation: Creating Better Relationships in the Midst of Conflict
The mediation process presents the mediator with an opportunity to do more than just facilitate a process where the parties reach an amicable settlement. Mediation is not just a great dispute resolution process for divorce, but it also provides a unique opportunity to create positive change and better relationships through the mediation process. This workshop will be presented by two mental health professionals who will share their insights on how the mediator can use the mediation process to transform the mediation client into a better ex-spouse and/or co-parent. The workshop will teach the mediator how to incorporate some simple mental health skills and techniques into their mediation practice so that the mediator will be more effective in helping spouses resolve anger, resentment, fear, shame and other negative feelings about the divorce process and parenting issues. Topics will include understanding the underlying interests of the parties, parental identity development, the effectiveness of the coach/therapist dual role in mediation, and the importance of healthy and effective co-parenting. The workshop attendee will learn how to recognize when it might be desirable or necessary to collaborate with and include mental health professionals in the mediation process.
Mercedes Samudio, LCSW, Parent Coach, Author
Mercedes Samudio is a parent coach who supports parents and children to communicate with each other, manage emotional trauma, navigate social media and technology together, and develop healthy parent-child relationships. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a private parent coaching practice, Mercedes has worked with adoptive families, foster families, teen parents, parents navigating the child protective services system, and children living with mental illness. Mercedes seeks to empower parents to believe that they are already great guides for raising healthy and happy children.
Michael Gass, Ph.D, LCSW, LMFT
Michael Gass is a licensed psychologist, licensed clinical social worker and marriage and family therapist and is certified as a practitioner in psychodrama by the American Board of Examiners in psychodrama, sociometry and group psychotherapy. Dr. Gass is the director and psychotherapist at the Rebuilding Therapy Center, a psychological corporation providing comprehensive psychological and family treatment. He is the director and instructor for Family Solutions, a psychological corporation, providing parent education and therapy for divorced and separated parents to teach them to work together in a cooperative and teamwork way, involving the child(rent) as needed.
Terri Breer, Attorney Mediator
Attorney and Mediator Terri Breer has been practicing law and mediation in OrangeCounty for over 30 years focusing primarily on family law and all forms of consensual dispute resolution. Ms. Breer graduated from the University of Pepperdine School of Law in 1985 and was trained in Domestic Dispute Resolution at the Strauss Institute at Pepperdine Law School in 1993. She obtained her undergraduate degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California in 1981. Although she has a background in real estate and business matters as well as family law, she has become a leader in the alternative dispute resolution field and has focused her practice on mediation, Collaborative Divorce, providing unbundled legal services and drafting Premarital Agreements. Her mission is to assist families in making their own decisions regarding the resolution of family law conflicts and to keep families and their legal disputes out of court.
Workshop 5: Talking with Couples about Support – a Witches Brew of Old and New Tax Laws, Family Code Sections and DissoMaster
The workshop is designed to build the new mediators confidence when discussing income and calculating support. Learn to identify common landmines so you can recognize and understand what you need to learn more about, and discover creative options and workarounds. You will learn the new tax laws & changes to DissoMaster software, the similarities and differences between support in mediation and in the court environment, balancing needs & ability to pay, perks and imputation of income, bonus income and Smith-Ostler, use and requirements of parties disclosure documents, and termination of support. Discussion topics will include whether to bring in mediation-friendly forensic accountants, triggering psychological landmines, the competing concerns of the payer and payee, and what to do about inevitable changes during and after mediation.
Susan Carlisle, CPA
Forensic accountant in over 850 divorces since the year 2000. Works in collaboration with attorneys, mediators, and therapists to help divorcing couples and individuals resolve financial, tax, and investment issues with dignity and economy. Frequently appointed by judges and attorneys as a jointly retained neutral accountant to give testimony in court. Specific assignments include cash flow available for support, small business and professional practice valuations, Moore-Marsden and reimbursement calculations, and marital lifestyle analysis.
Workshop 6: Don’t Miss Crucial Financial Issues When Mediating and Drafting an MSA: Divide Property and Determine Support with Confidence
A poorly-constructed marital settlement agreement (MSA) can create inequities and unnecessary problems as your clients attempt to transition financially from married to single life.
While it may appear relatively simple to divide community property 50/50, in many cases mediators do not properly value assets. Attempting to equalize assets without properly valuing them and not accounting for after-tax impacts can result in one spouse getting juicy oranges while the other gets rotten apples.
In this workshop, attendees will learn how to prevent problems before they occur by engaging experts who will:
Properly value community assets (taking into consideration tax impacts and separate property interests) such as the marital home, pensions/retirement accounts, non-publicly-traded securities, employee stock options and RSU’s, and annuities.
Analyze short- and long-term financial and tax ramifications of selling or keeping the marital home.
Identify all income sources available for support especially in cases where income is unpredictable or variable.
Ensure retirement plan divisions are equitable and will be honored by plan administrators.
Assess whether a proposed settlement option will be financially viable for one or both parties in the short term as well as in the future.
Laurie Itkin, Financial Advisor, CDFA
Laurie Itkin is a financial advisor, wealth manager, and certified divorce financial analysts (CDFA). She is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Every Woman Should Know Her Options: Invest Your Way to Financial Empowerment,” and the creator of the online course, “How Not to Run Out of Money: The Recently-Divorced Woman’s Guide to Financial Independence.”
As a wealth manager at Coastwise Capital Group, Ms. Itkin manages the investments of clients’ brokerage, trust and retirement accounts. Through her financial consulting company, The Options Lady, she provides divorce-related financial planning and analysis to individuals and couple throughout all stages of the divorce process.
Madeline Hill, QDRO Attorney
Madeline L. Hill is a QDRO attorney and established QDRO Helper to provide both family law attorneys and divorced individuals with access to reasonably priced, attorney-drafted QDRO’s. Ms. Hill has prepared over a thousand court order to divide retirement benefits. She has extensive knowledge and experience with a wide variety of retirement plans, included both private and public employer sponsored plans. She frequently prepares orders for the divisions of city and county government plans for all of Southern California – including Orange, Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties. Clients and attorneys alike praise Ms. Hill’s ability to make the complicated QDRO process easy to understand; they appreciate her friendly demeanor and willingness to answer questions.