20th Jan 2020

Starting conversations about mediation

Over the years, I've been askeda lot of questions about mediation. I think my favourite was probably “where are the bean bags?”  - possibly illustrating a misunderstanding with meditation!

It may have made me smile at the time, but only goes to highlight that mediation – particularly if you've never been involved with it – can easily be misunderstood.  This ranges from the idea of it being a soft, almost cop-out option, - to something akin to refereeing a boxing match!

So in the first of these blogs on Family Mediation Week we're going to start the conversation about what mediation really is (and what it isn’t!) and show the value it can bring. 

Let's start with what it isn't. I remember on my  mediation training, back in the day, a role play exercise as follows: The two participants wanted 2 different outcomes ; one to paint a room red and one to paint a room white.  Where is your mind drawn? Of course - everyone thinks the answer is to paint the room pink. The answer is very definitely not to paint the room pink.  Think about it - that's not what either person wants!

What is family mediation?

Mediation is exploring what is behind people's wants, needs and stated positions. Why does the room need to be red (or white)?  What is it really about? Is there a reason why both people are taking these polar positions? What's most important to each person? If that person were able to secure those things, then would the colour of the room be less important? Mediation is about exploring options, making sure everyone can be heard and gets equal airplay.  It’s about looking for solutions that will make future better than the past and, very importantly, focusing on children where they are part of the family dynamic.

What really annoys me is the suggestion that mediation is wishy washy and ineffective. Wrong. The Family Mediation Council Survey of family mediators, conducted in Autumn 2019, shows that family mediation is a highly successful way of helping separating couples resolve disputes, with mediation successful in over 70% of cases. These success rates are consistent with figures from previous studies, including government studies – and also consistent with our own statistics; in the year 2019, 75% of mediations where both parties engaged came to a successful, mediated outcome. And, reflecting on those cases now, I am reminded that they cover such a wide range of issues; not just divorce but former cohabitees/property ownership in dispute, grandparent access to name a few.

More importantly on statistics, we were able to reach out and directly engage with children concerned in some of the families having a huge effect on the parents and making it about the future.  What's also important to me is that, when you're going through divorce or separation, there's enough to worry about with the immediate strain on money to support two houses instead of one.  Mediation helps by limiting the time and the cost involved in finding resolutions..

Mediation is a process where, rather than being controlled and being on an expensive conveyor belt that you can't stop… you are part of shaping your future.

Sarah Smith is an Eminent Practitioner in Family Law and has been supporting separating couples for over 20 years.

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