Mediation in Colorado: Unregulated Industries Further Corrupt an Already Broken Legal System
Did you know: When you are ordered into mediation in Colorado, the court is asking you to put all your faith into people who are not trained, certified, or licensed to solve your biggest problems?
Yep, you read that right. In Colorado, there are no prerequisites to becoming a mediator, even in the courts system. You would think that an industry that operates inside government courthouses would have some oversight over their practices.
But you would be wrong.
The Mediation Association of Colorado's website makes their "legitimacy" quite clear:
The Mediation Association of Colorado has a "credentialing" process used to qualify applicants for its Professional Member Mediator status, though this does not mean such a mediator is state “certified.” 1
I didn't add the quotes, by the way; they already know none of this is "official."
Imagine being a victim of domestic violence seeking a pro se divorce from an abusive partner; in the initial conference hearing, you are immediately ordered into mediation, regardless of your victim status. And God help you if you try to bring it up. I remember my facilitator, Celilia Wall, at the El Paso County Courthouse. The only thing she facilitated was my anxiety. My concerns couldn't crack her annoyance; my fears fell dead on her desk.
Does mediation make divorce easier for some couples? Of course it does. But mediation should never be ordered when there is even the slightest hint of domestic violence, let alone where there has been a DV conviction.
And every time an abuser drags their victim back to court, the judge has to approve a mediation waiver each time, even if one person has a Permanent Protective Order (PPO) against the other. It feels like being victimized all over again.
I had a particularly troubling situation with the El Paso County Mediator's Office last year. By sharing my story, I hope to empower other victims of DV to say "NO!" to unregulated mediation.
I am a victim of domestic violence. I currently have a PPO against my ex husband; he was convicted of and is currently on probation for domestic violence against me. He served 6 months in jail for those crimes. Unfortunately, even though our divorce is officially final, because we have kids, it is never truly "final;" I see him in court regularly.
About two months after my ex had been released from jail, the mediation office called my mom. They called her because I had been afraid to share my information with the court, so I put my mom's phone number and address on all the court papers.
The caller identified herself as Sonya. She told my mom that because mediation had been ordered in our Final Divorce Orders, I was required to appear in mediation on July 9, 2015; my mom was like, "Uh ... no." Sonya refused to tell her why I was to appear in mediation, then threatened me with a big fine and other vague punishments if I didn't appear. Sonya also demanded that my mom give her my phone number and address; my mother explained that I have a PPO for a reason and refused.
My mom called me right away, in a panic; she wasn't even sure it was really the mediator's office. I called Sonya back (the number from the caller ID), but only got an answering machine for the El Paso County mediator's office.
I then contacted the Colorado State Mediator’s Office. The lady I spoke to in the state office told me that no one named “Sonya” works in the El Paso County office.
I didn’t understand what was going on, which stressed me the hell out.
Over the next couple of weeks, I tried to contact someone in the mediation office; I left a bunch of messages but was unable to get through. I also contacted the 4th District, who said they had no idea what I was talking about.
Then I called the 12th Division and the clerk said that my ex husband had called their office with an issue, and she vaguely remembered suggesting he go through mediation for those issues. At that time, she confirmed that there was no court-ordered mediation.
But the mediator's office never returned my calls or my mom’s calls.
But! A couple days before the mediation was scheduled, a mediation contractor called me from his personal cell phone. Because of my PPO, I am wary of answering calls from unknown numbers, let alone talking with strangers on the phone. His call freaked me out.
So ... contractor guy informs me once again that the mediation was ordered by the court. I went into full bitch mode. I told him that no such thing had been ordered by the court, and, ya know ... to look at the final divorce orders. Then I hung up on him.
Here's the thing: Every year, around the 4th of July, we go to Iowa to see my elderly uncle. He lives in a nursing home and we are some of the only people who visit him during the year. My ex husband knew this, which is probably why he scheduled mediation for that date. He knew this would spoil our trip, and his plan worked; we had to cut our trip short because of this contractor’s insistence that I had court-ordered mediation.
The day before the scheduled mediation - after we had driven all the way back to Colorado - that same contractor called to cancel the mediation.
Oh yeah ... and to tell me that there was no court-ordered mediation.
I called the mediation office to confirm it had been cancelled and ... for the first time in almost a month ... someone picked up the phone. It was Sonya! I demanded to know what had prompted her threats; Sonya refused to give me any information and hung up on me. I immediately tried to call her back, but only reached the answering machine.
The whole experience deeply humiliated and upset me.
Thinking about this situation, I'm trying to figure out how the mediation office could have made this worse. They completely disregarded my safety; I know I have a right to make safety demands because of my PPO, but I couldn’t even contact their office to make arrangements.
And not only was there zero regard for my safety, but I couldn’t even reasonably prepare for the mediation against the man who had been convicted of committing DV against me, because I had no idea what was to be discussed!
That seems to be the opposite of the spirit of mediation … or maybe I'm just too stupid to understand how mediation works.
Seriously: It is truly astounding that they made no effort whatsoever to review the Final Orders, especially since they were threatening to fine me - or worse - if I didn’t show up. And I would be super, incredibly interested in finding out what on earth my ex husband said to them that convinced them that there was court-ordered mediation, to the point that they didn’t feel it was necessary to even take a cursory glance over the Final Orders.
Essentially, the mediation office helped my ex husband violate the PPO. Any tiny spark of hope I had that my ex husband was done victimizing me was extinguished, all thanks to the mediation office.
During this whole process, I have often wondered what the point of the PPO truly is, when an abusive ex can harass his victim as much as he wants, as long as he does it through the courts.
I was in court again Monday, so I thought I would drop in and try speaking with Michelle McKenna, the head of the El Paso County Mediator's Office, or Sonya, her minion, or ... whichever bitch du jour, and received a predictable response: Michelle and Sonja (the correct spelling of her name) doubled down. You know those bosses who seem to always stand up for the meanest, rottenest people because if they don't it will bring the whole house of cards down? Well, that was Michelle. And Sonja was a dead ringer for the old lady in the opening scene of Ghostbusters.
Michelle said she had already received my written complaint, and instead of offering any apology whatsoever, she kicked me out of her office. After putting me through so much stress, and nearly putting me in a position of danger, she refused to offer even a simple apology for having been utterly and completely WRONG.
And this is exactly why this industry needs to be regulated with strict oversight. To whom can anyone even complain? What recourse does anyone have when they screw up? It is absolutely shameful that Colorado allows people's lives to be controlled by people who are not trained, licensed or certified in ... anything. And it needs to stop, to prevent further victimization by people who would gladly take advantage of the bugs in the system.