Picture of someone selecting the best mediator for a divorce or family law case in Snohomish County.

Top Snohomish County Mediators – A Divorce Attorney’s Perspective

Samuel K. Darling, Divorce & Business Lawyer at Genesis Law Firm's headquarters in Everett, WA

by Samuel K. Darling, Snohomish County Divorce Lawyer

As the title suggests, this article lists who I, an Everett divorce attorney, believe are the top divorce and family law mediators in Snohomish County. Granted, there may be an element of bias in my opinion; however I try to remain as objective as possible. This is the same information I give my paying clients, and I arrived at these rankings by surveying my colleagues at Genesis.

Parties typically MUST mediate before proceeding to trial in a divorce or family law matter in Snohomish County. Moreover, an excellent mediator will settle upwards of 90% of his or her cases, greatly reducing the likelihood of going to trial at all. That means you probably need to hire a mediator, and he or she should be the best you can afford. If you cannot afford someone expensive, fear not – I will also mention who you can hire for less.

My criteria for ranking mediators is simple. First and foremost, I consider who is most likely to “close the case”, or help parties reach settlement. But I will also recommend one mediator based on price rather than closing ability.

Without further ado, my top five mediators:

1) Mr. James Shipman

Few Snohomish County family law practitioners would strongly dispute James Shipman’s rank as the top mediator in the area. His closest competition in recent years – Mark Podrasky, Lee Tinney, and Patricia Nelson – are no longer available. They passed away, retired, or rose to the bench. That makes Mr. Shipman the last one standing and a near unanimous vote-getter according to my survey.

He provides parties with well-reasoned evaluations of their cases, and we have not seen him get angry. Moreover, he continually proposes alternative solutions to the parties’ disputes. This is exactly what our firm looks for in a mediator. And to our dismay, these qualities have become increasingly difficult to find. It seems most mediators either shy away from blunt case evaluations (because the mediator wants to remain friends with the parties’ attorneys) or get frustrated and cause the parties to act defensively (which typically reduces the chance of settling a case). Mr. Shipman’s style is to befriend parties while calmly describing each side’s case weaknesses and the considerable financial costs of trial. The result: parties tend to listen to and respect his opinion. He may be the most respected mediator in Snohomish County, not just a great closer.

2) Mr. Aaron Shields

Aaron Shields was Mr. Shipman’s junior partner at the former law firm of Podrasky, Shipman, & Shields. All three name partners went on to become skilled mediators. Mark Podrasky, the senior-most attorney of the three, was the most popular mediator in Snohomish County when he retired in late 2015. Mr. Shields acquired Mr. Podrasky’s mediation practice and has closely followed his footsteps. Like the person ranked above him on this list, Mr. Shields applies an evaluative approach, though his closing rate is not as high from what our firm has seen.

3) Mr. Wayne Pellegrini

Wayne Pellegrini may be the most liked mediator in Snohomish County, and a popular choice as a result. Compared to the other names on this top-five list, Mr. Pellegrini rarely offers parties his straightforward opinion of their cases’ strengths and weaknesses. He adopts a more facilitative approach. This makes him a good choice when working with sensitive opposing parties and attorneys.

In previous iterations of this list, Mr. Pellegrini ranked two spots lower. That was because his conflict-averse approach resulted in a lower closing percentage in our firm’s experience. His closing rate appears to have improved since then, perhaps because of Mr. Pellegrini’s willingness to put in long hours. One of our firm’s attorneys reported a successful sixteen-hour mediation in which Mr. Pellegrini “worked very hard to reach agreements” on all the various issues.

4) Mr. William Sullivan

William Sullivan fills a niche very different from Mr. Pellegrini’s. Whereas our firm uses Mr. Pellegrini for cases requiring a softer touch, Mr. Sullivan excels in cases where an attorney or party needs to be brought in line. In the words of one of my colleagues:

I like him because he has a very authoritative manner, without being overbearing – I find that he relates well with [parties], particularly when they may be more stubborn or difficult. He has a lot of experience (and especially a lot of trial experience) and can point out areas where [a party’s case] may be weaker or stronger. I also feel like he gives fairly objective opinions. He will often do research during mediations if there are any issues that are particularly difficult or if the attorneys differ significantly as to the statutory or case law that should govern. He has a pretty good track record of helping to settle cases. I can only think of one that I had with him that did not settle.

5) 3-WayTie: Ms. Elizabeth Turner, Mr. Robert Weinzierl, & Ms. Constance Locklear

These last three could be ranked higher. Elizabeth Turner writes and/or edits the most prestigious family law publication in Washington, which means her opinion should hold quite a bit of sway in mediation. However she only mediates as a side pursuit.

Robert Weinzierl and Constance Locklear are not ranked higher because they are my colleagues at Genesis Law Firm. It seems unfair to recommend them given my bias. But both are experienced with family law and charge the lowest rates on this list at $260 per hour as opposed to $350+. They also try to ensure the parties leave mediation with fully drafted final orders. Most other mediators only help parties draft a basic settlement agreement and expect further negotiation on exact language later. Drafting the exact language of final orders after mediation tends to take a month or two and thousands of dollars. Hiring my colleagues should save you that time and money.

If price is a major concern, however, consider the honorable mention below our shameless advertisement.

Honorable Mention Based On Price: Volunteers of America Dispute Resolution Center

The Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) is not a mediator; it is a mediation center with numerous volunteer mediators randomly assigned to cases. That means you have no idea whether the mediator will be good or bad. The DRC nonetheless deserves mention as a low-cost alternative to typical mediation services. The cost is only $200 for an entire half-day session (multiple hours), and that amount can decrease on a sliding scale based on the parties’ incomes. Sessions with other mediators often end up costing $2,000 or more at normal hourly rates. That makes the DRC a good choice for those who cannot afford a top-level mediator, or those who expect mediation to be unsuccessful regardless. Of note, the DRC’s rules prohibit mediation of child support disputes, though the DRC will mediate all other aspects of a divorce or family law case, such as custody issues and property division. Also of note, the DRC will not allow parties to bring their attorneys to the mediation session if either party objects to doing so.

That’s it! For more free articles and guides on family law topics, we encourage you to visit the ‘resources’ section of our website by clicking the tab at the top of the page.

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