Sean Collinson Interview – Mediator, Writer, and Motivational Speaker
Sean Collinson is a mediation expert, best-selling author and motivational speaker, who has been described as the nation’s top family and divorce mediation expert. He serves as a neutral third party in divorce situations, helping couples achieve an acceptable divorce agreement through skilled negotiation.
Collinson’s success in high-profile divorce cases involving athletes and celebrities has spawned numerous radio and TV interviews as well as two books, including his most recent, “I Want Out: How To Get Out Without Losing Your Dignity, Yourself, and Your Money,” released in January 2013.
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Collinson was raised by his teenage mother after his father was killed by a gunshot when Sean was just two years old. Despite the early hardships, he earned a lucrative recording contract as a teen rapper, then went on to receive high‐level mediation training from Loyola Law School, Harvard Law School, and the Florida Supreme Court’s Family Mediation Program. For more information on Sean Collinson, visit http://seancollinson.com/
Q. Your career as a mediator sounds quite intriguing and unusual. Let’s start with the basics. Tell me what you do.
A. I’m a Family Law Mediator. My job is to act as the neutral between disgruntled divorcing parties over child support, community property, and, a lot of times, the bitterness and resentment of the relationship. I’m the mediator, so I’m in between both parties and I facilitate communication between them. A lot of times, when they’re going through a divorce, they can say one thing and they don’t hear it the same, but when I say it, they seem to hear it a different way than their spouse saying it.
I set them up to have everything through the court, as far as all the Judicial Council paperwork that they need. I help them get through a very tough time in their lives, to help them gain some clarity while securing their future and where they may be going from that point.
I did two years of law school and then I have specialized training from Harvard Law in the Program on Negotiation. So, ultimately, I am a negotiator.
Q. Was there a point in law school when you decided that you didn’t want to finish your law degree and that this was the line of work that interested you?
A. I kind of stumbled into mediation and I realized that – I’m from Brooklyn, and I just realized that, looking at my priorities of serving people and being of service, it really had a lot to do with being a mediator. In my role, it feels like I’m helping people more. I’m helping them move forward as opposed to advocating their agenda, where an attorney will advocate an agenda, be it right or wrong.
Attorneys live and die by what their client is telling them. As a mediator, I sort of act as an agent of reality. So, when you’re way out on the deep end, my role is to reel you back in so that we can be forward looking and forward thinking, so that the parties don’t crash and burn based on their bullsh*t. The lawyers are just inundated with BS and then they’ll go into court – I’m not saying they lie in court – but they’ll go in and skew what the party is saying. As a mediator, I don’t have to do that. I just deal with the people one-for-one and I get to the correct scenario that I believe both parties can live with.
Q. We had a case here not too long ago that made national news. It involved some sort of mediation and someone walked in with a gun and shot some of the people who were there for the meeting. I’m sure that you are involved with some very sensitive situations. Have you ever been threatened or been afraid of that sort of thing happening?
A. There have been times when the party that has been rejected – if you say to your husband, “Hey, I want a divorce,” then that side feels rejected – the origin of that anger and resentment is from the rejection, not really from the mediator. Mediators are more like peacemakers and they get paid really well to be peacemakers.
I have had cases where one of the parties will become disgruntled, but I’ve never been threatened. I just don’t allow it to really go there. Nowadays, I’m far more cautious if there is a case where someone is upset. I can just tell you that sometimes a mediator can overstep the boundaries, sort of like a lawyer, and one party can feel like there has been an unbalanced equation in the process, and that can really tick someone off. But I find that I’m going to be balanced with both parties.
I’m giving both parties an opportunity to be heard. I’m making sure that if I’m giving kudos to one party, I’m giving the other party acknowledgment and kudos and I make them feel warm. I have to always remember that these people are going through a devastating time in their lives, and who am I to assert my ego into their catastrophic system? That’s when it goes bad. You have to maintain the ability to be of service.
Q. Does mediation ever reach a point where you are at a stalemate? If that happens, do they end up going to divorce court at that point?
A. A lot of times, when it gets to a stalemate, we do something called agent of reality. And once we hit the agent of reality mark, it’s time for me to read everyone their rights. They may not like it, and they may say, “Screw you, you suck. Mediation was a big waste of time and a big waste of money and I don’t know why they invented that job.” And I go, “Okay.” Then, they both go hire lawyers. I just had a case recently – it was a celebrity case – and what happened was they were arguing over custody of the dogs. I worked out the custody for the dogs, but they both went and hired lawyers – and $225,000 later, both of them came back and said it was the biggest mistake they ever made in their lives and I settled the case.
Q. Do you have a lot of celebrity clients?
A. I do a lot of celebrity cases. I just did Bernie Williams of the New York Yankees. I did Alfonso Ribeiro from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Kristoff St. John from The Young and the Restless, Shannon Elizabeth. I helped out Bobby Brown. I assisted Eddie Murphy. I’m in Hollywood, so you can end up a little bit in that circle. But, they’re just like everyone else. The cases run the same course. It’s always about who gets what. The cases really come down to, “What do you owe me?” That’s the mindset. Or, “What can I get from you before I leave?” Some people come in with a real good reality that, “You don’t owe me anything,” and some people come in with, “Well, since I have to leave, I’m gonna take everything.” That’s just divorce.
Q. Your bio says that you are the nation’s top family and divorce mediation expert. Do you practice in states other than California?
A. I have Florida Supreme Court training and I’ve done cases in New York, the Midwest, Texas, and I do a lot of cases up and down the coast of California. I work all over the nation. Attorneys are barred in one state and they would have to go Pro Hac Vice in another state. Mediators can work in any state, which makes it a different thing.
Q. You’ve gone from a tough childhood being raised in the streets of Brooklyn to becoming a Harvard-trained mediator. If you could offer some general career advice – not necessarily about becoming a mediator – but for young people who are struggling to figure out what they want to do in life, what would it be?
A. The best career advice is to do what you love. Don’t do it for the money. Do what you love and what you’re passionate about. At my kids’ school, I did a Career Day – they didn’t have one, but I spoke to the school and the kids loved me, because back in 1988, I was a rapper, which is crazy. But, do what you love. I think I love negotiating. So, as a mediator, I get to negotiate every day.
I think if you do what you love – and if you’re good at it – money will follow. If you’re good at gardening and you make the best floral arrangements, someone will notice you and say, “Hey, you’re really good. I’d pay you if you could do that in my yard.”
You just have to do what you love. It was so odd that I ended up a mediator. Life’s course took me in that direction. But, when it all came full circle, it came down to the fact that I love to negotiate. I’m a people person. Sean Collinson has a very successful but unusual career as a mediator. Additionally, his journey to success was not easy. His father died when he was only two years old. Her mother was a teenager who then had to take care of herself and her child as well. His life is another example of success reached by real hardship and determination. Most children who grow up facing similar situations do not tend to have any successful careers. They blame the terrible conditions their families were in when they were growing up. Collinson was an exception to this tradition and he proved that one could succeed in life no matter where they live or how poor they are.
Collinson’s job is to help couples handle divorce and all things associated with it without going to court. Divorce is an ugly affair, but we should not allow it to inflict further damage to the parties involved. He acts as a mediator between both the parties. His goal is to discuss the terms of divorce and child custody, and to help the couple reach an agreement that is acceptable to them and everyone else who’s involved. After all, if matters go out of hand, the couple then has to leave things to court to decide. The parties then hire lawyers and spend thousands of dollars in hopes of getting the most; this includes money, custody, property etc. Bad memories of such breakup can haunt a person for rest of his or her life.
Collinson has successfully mediated numerous divorces including that of celebrities. His work is not limited to one or few states; he is working all across the country. He says he is different from lawyers because he is a neutral party, a fact which is very much true. Lawyers represent one party and care for just their party’s goodwill; each case has two lawyers or two teams of lawyers. Each of them fights the case as if only their client is right and the other one is totally in the wrong. When a court handles a divorce, the couple is bound to waste thousands of dollars; if they handle this affair with a cool and open mind, they can save this money. A mediator helps couples to save money, which they can then use to have a better future. Collinson is not your ordinary mediator, his field record shows high success rate.
He is not just a mediator he is also a writer and a motivational speaker. So far, he has written two books both of which received very high ratings. His book “I Want Out” is a best-seller on Amazon.