"Anyone can set out a shingle and call themselves a divorce mediator," says attorney Laura D. Blackburne of New York's Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution.

"And now that mediation's become the hottest thing since pantyhose you've got more and more people out there whose capabilities cover the waterfront from expert to quack."

When choosing a mediator, Blackburne and other experts advise you to:

* Comparison shop as you would for any service.

* Take advantage of the free initial consultation--offered by many reputable mediators--to learn more about the individual.

* Prepare a list of questions on such things as training, background, length of time in practice, charges, anticipated time for your case.

* Learn what other professionals are involved in the process. Some experts are wary of a potential conflict of interest when mediators recommend just one "consulting attorney" to advise both parties. Also, complex cases may require services of an accountant.

* Ask for names of other couples who have worked with the mediator.

* Check whether the mediator is certified by an independent professional association.

* Remember that mediation is not for everyone.

* Be wary of practitioners who present the process as a painless panacea.

* Walk out if you have "negative vibes." "Trust," says Blackburne, "is essential for the success of the process."