The Origins and Future of Family Mediation - Family Law Partners

The Origins and Future of Family Mediation

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Origins of mediation


Family Mediation Week 2018 begins today and is a really exciting opportunity to raise awareness of the constructive role expert-led family meditation can play in assisting separating families.

Mediation is a non-court dispute resolution process, the aim of which is to facilitate open face-to-face discussions between separating couples. Mediation as a process is very different from the adversarial court process, so where did the idea of such a radically different approach originate from?

The Origins of Family Mediation

In the mid 1980’s in response to increasing demand for one solicitor to act for both parties, six legal professionals joined forces to develop a new approach to resolving family disputes.

London solicitors Jack Bleiman, Henry Brown, John Cornwell, Diana Parker and Felicity White together with family conciliator Lisa Parkinson set up a pilot scheme for family mediation. The aim of the pilot scheme was to test a process whereby separating couples decide and record mutually agreed arrangements for children, finance and property on separation.

The six founding members then developed guidelines setting out basic principles for the practice of mediation whilst the pilot group together with Lisa Parkinson devised a training program for use within the English Legal system.

In order to ensure compliance with professional practice rules which prevented solicitors from acting for both parties involved the members worked closely with the Law Society. Compliance was achieved by setting out the distinct role of mediator separate to that of solicitor, this ensured that solicitors who mediated did so as a mediator and not a solicitor. Over the following two years the six founders set up a joint working party with the Law Society in which to explore the development of a Mediation Code of Practice and the criteria for training and accreditation.

A comprehensive pilot training program was established quickly followed by a membership organization for family mediators, The Family Mediators Association (FMA) and the Family Mediation Council (FMC). The aim of the FMA was to provide training and develop practice in mediation, whereas the aim of the FMC was to co-ordinate regulation of and develop common standards for family mediators.

Founding members, Henry Brown and Lisa Parkinson are now Vice-Presidents of the FMA which currently represents over 400 family mediators.

What does Family Mediation look like today?

Mediation is now a well established and popular constructive approach to resolving family disputes.

Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process whereby an independent qualified mediator assists a couple to reach a mutual agreement. During the mediation sessions the mediator guides the couple through discussion assisting them to explain what each would like to happen, the mediator then assists the couple to move towards an agreement. Throughout the process the mediator remains impartial; their role is to open up and facilitate discussion with the aim of reaching agreement.

Couples using mediation to navigate through their family dispute are benefiting from having the control to mutually decide arrangements and reach agreement in a process that reduces conflict, costs and promotes communication. In addition the process is proven to be far less stressful and quicker than other processes.

In April 2014 it became a compulsory requirement for those wishing to use the court system to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) prior to making a court application.

A MIAM is a meeting with a family mediator during which the alternative options and their benefits as opposed to the court process are explained. The purpose of attending a MIAM is to ensure mediation is explored as a suitable process for resolving the dispute. This compulsory requirement to attend a MIAM has seen an increase in the uptake in mediation as well as increasing awareness of mediation as an alternative to the more traditional court process.

Family mediation now provides an opportunity for couples to use a constructive approach to resolving family disputes.

What does the future of mediation look like?

Founding member, mediator and Vice-President of the FMA Henry Brown has kindly agreed to share his thoughts with us on what the future of mediation looks like 33 years after the initial conception of mediation. Henry Brown comments;

Given my longstanding involvement with and commitment to mediation, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone when I say that I regard it as an eminently sensible and effective way to address conflict and disputes, or to help people find a way through the challenges of relationship breakdown.

Over the last 30+ years, we have developed an excellent way of providing mediation in various fields of activity, including addressing couples’ issues on separation and divorce, other family issues, civil and commercial disputes, workplace disagreements, neighbourhood and community issues and many others.

But mediation models can’t remain static and unchanged over time, as we face new challenges and find different ways of working. Mediators need to be creative and adaptable, and the process needs to continue to develop and incorporate fresh ideas. And fortunately, there is an increasing willingness to embrace these challenges and to adapt to necessary change. Some family mediators, for example, are learning how to incorporate elements of other models into their practices, such as separate private meetings, and to work more closely with parties’ lawyers where they are appointed. Consideration is, I’m sure, also being given to creative ways of supporting the increasing number of people who are not legally represented.

I want to adapt a short extract from a talk I gave at a Resolution conference recently, regarding the concept of working as a ‘head, heart and gut professional’. ‘Head’ involves having some basic understanding of psychology, neuroscience, brain function and personality relevant to our work. ‘Heart’ is not just about emotions but also working with compassion and humanity. The concept of humanity is incorporated in the Southern African concept of  ‘Ubuntu’, which broadly means ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’. We are all bound up with one another and our individual humanity is inter-connected with everyone else’s. And ‘gut’ is knowing when to follow our intuitions and also understanding when these can lead us astray. A good mediator will work with head, heart and gut – with humanity”. Henry Brown, Founding member of mediation, mediator and Vice-President of the FMA.

Mediation can produce a better long-term outcome for separating couples and children, whereas they will rarely reach the end of the court process with a better relationship and a greater ability to communicate. It makes sense to try mediation the benefits are considerable.

If you would like to find out more information about how mediation can assist in resolving family disputes please contact our mediation team.

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