Steps in Family Mediation
Mediator’s Role in Family Mediation:
A mediator is a neutral person who is trained to help people talk so that the parties can better understand their problems and reach an agreement. A mediator does not take the side of either party, and does not pass judgment on the parties or their problems.
The function of the mediator is to manage the process for the parties, to get them talking, to help them better understand the problems, and to help them reach a solution that meets their needs. The mediator keeps the conversations going and focused. Where there is a will to address conflicts constructively and creatively, mediators provide the necessary skill.
The mediator sets the tone for the negotiations. Right from the beginning, the mediator tries to create an atmosphere conducive to discussion.
In Settlement Meetings, there is usually a certain amount of “posturing.” On the other hand, the mediator will discourage intimidation, threats, or bottom-lining. The mediator can remind the parties to take a more co-operative and less competitive approach.
Because the parties have usually experienced a significant breach of trust, responding to trust issues is one of the most challenging tasks for a mediator.
The emotional consequences of the breakdown of relationships in family disputes cannot be overstated. Lawyers who are working hard to advocate for their clients may miss the emotional significance of some of the matters that cause the most grief and about which a person becomes most intransigent.
Family mediators consider the emotions and feelings the parties are experiencing that can be a significant obstacle to settlement.
Mediation does not mean “giving in” or “giving up.” Mediation clients are no “nicer” than the ones who go to court. The difference is the process: in a positive environment, the parties find practical solutions that work for both of them.
Mediation can be effective even when conflict and anger is high and communication has broken down. Some people are concerned that they will not be able to negotiate effectively with the other party and then they will lose. But with a trained mediator, the parties can trust that they are not going to be abused or taken advantage of by the other party.
Settlement Meetings do not usually involve communication directly between the parties. In mediation, on the other hand, the parties talk to each other, with the mediator present. Direct negotiation between the parties generally expedites the resolution of issues.
One of the most common complaints from parties entering mediation is that they cannot communicate with each other. Therefore, the trained family mediator will focus on communications and improved understanding. The more people understand each other, the more likely they can begin the process of talking constructively about the issues in dispute.
It is important for each party to understand the position of the other, even if he/she does not agree with it. Therefore, in mediation, each party relates the issue as she/he sees it.
The mediator probes into the underlying and often unspoken issues. The underlying issues may be the deep-rooted reason for the party’s stand. The mediator encourages the parties to talk about their feelings. This is not done in Settlement Meetings. When the feelings have been expressed and heard, the parties may be more willing to talk about a way to resolve the issues.
The aim of Settlement Meetings is to make a determination of rights. Usually a settlement is reached based on the law and the lawyers’ interpretation of the facts.
The law is not trying to have each side understand the position of the other. Very little is said in Settlement Meetings about underlying issues.
A position is what a party wants or demands. An interest is why a party has taken a particular position. Much of the mediation process is devoted to exploring the parties’ respective interests, rather than a positional approach to negotiation.
The focus on interests in mediation changes the way in which the dispute is characterized, analyzed, and processed. An agreement is unlikely to result from a consensual process unless the discussion can be moved beyond positions stated in rights-based terms, and explore how the conflict arose, the expectations of either side, and uncover what is critical to each side in seeking a resolution.
Lawyers often excel in developing facts that support their positions, but bog down when it comes to developing settlement options.
Mediation recognizes that both parties have legitimate needs and helps develop options that will successfully reconcile those needs to the satisfaction of both parties. A mediator can explore suggestions as to available options that have not been previously considered.
Once the parties have identified their options, they can assess their merit and begin to negotiate their acceptance. Here, the mediator often serves to facilitate communication, test realities, and offer encouragement to the parties.
Family mediation focuses on plans for the future of the children, rather than on the parents’ conflicts and grievances. The mediator can emphasize a co-operative parenting approach.
In Settlement Meetings involving custody and access, for example, agreements generally focus on legal rights. Negotiations between lawyers do very little to clarify ongoing parental responsibilities. On the other hand, mediation provides a forum for parents to structure their own unique parenting plan.
While Settlement Meetings do not usually include the children, often the mediator will meet privately with the children (but only with the approval of both parents). Children may have their own questions and concerns, and have needs that are quite different from their parents’ needs.
Mediation can also help the parties explain the situation of their separation to their children in a constructive fashion. This is not done in a Settlement Meeting.
New partners are not usually included in Settlement Meetings. This can be a highly explosive subject (for the parties and for their children) if it is not dealt with. Often this topic is discussed in mediation.
The legal system concerns itself with the facts, and the results will often be black and white. In mediation, on the other hand, the parties are sometimes able to reach a solution that is more creative than that which a court would impose.
You need to consider the future relationship of the parties. This is where mediation can be a big help. In situations where the parties wish to preserve or improve their relationships, mediation is more likely to create a forum for frank exchange leading to a better working association.
Advantages of Family Mediation for Lawyers:
We have talked about the benefits of mediation for the parties. There are also advantages of Family Mediation for their lawyers. Lawyers will have clients who are generally more satisfied by the experience of crafting their own resolution. Satisfied clients are more appreciative of the lawyers’ services and spread the word. This causes more clients to seek out that lawyer for similarly satisfactory results. Lawyers representing clients in mediation are more likely to be paid their full fee. On the other hand, the lawyers who go the traditional route of settlement meetings and litigation often do not bill their full fee, or they often do not collect all the money that they do bill their clients. Thus, while lawyers may bill fewer gross dollars to an individual client, they collect a higher percentage of what is billed and get more business as a result of satisfied clients.
If You Think Mediation Might Be Worth a Try:
Statistics indicate that over 80% of all mediations result in settlement. This is true even where all prior attempts at settlement have failed, where the parties were pessimistic about the prospects of settlement, and where the parties have spent substantial amounts of time and money preparing for trial. With such a success rate, it is wise and relatively inexpensive to try mediation. You have little to lose.
In those few cases where no agreement is reached, the parties still retain the flexibility to walk away from mediation and go to, or continue with, court.