Mediation has been around for a long time to resolve a whole range of issues, whether formally structured or not. Family mediation in it’s current form as an alternative to court has existed in this country for over 30 years. When I trained all of 25 years ago the models used by my professional body, the Family Mediators Association, had been in place for some time. Over the last quarter of a century the actual processes have evolved. The model, co-mediation, in which I trained has largely been supplanted by sole mediation (with one mediator instead of two), mainly for reasons of cost. What hasn’t changed are the principles of mediation or the basic concept of what it is.
That concept is so basic and such common sense that I have to ask myself why people still by and large seem unaware of the existence of family mediation. I was at a dinner party on Saturday night where I found myself explaining what it is. I was telling my chimney sweep about it this morning.
When you get the chance to tell anybody what family mediation is, a way of working with a neutral professional to sort out what to do about children, finances, basically everything including the kitchen sink at or several years after separation and, they almost always say, quite genuinely, “That sounds a good idea”.
If, as I firmly believe, it is a stunningly good idea, why are we still having to explain what it is over the antipasto? Yet we do have to spread the word as if it was all a new concept, explaining it time after time to a new set of people. Try explaining to your insurers that you are a mediator by profession. You will find that it isn’t on their list of occupations.
One answer has to be that we mediators have been singularly bad at working together to establish the concept of mediation in the public brain over all these decades. The evidence convicts us of collective failure on that score. Maybe most mediators aren’t good publicists. Maybe it is because we have allowed much of the narrative to be written by the legal aid authorities, the ministry of justice, lawyers, indeed anybody but us. Mainly I suspect we have failed as evangelists for mediation itself as we have, until relatively recently, spent so much energy on disputes about particular models and bodies, in the process losing sight of the need to co-operate to sell an idea in which we all believe.
At the moment, when we should have the head wind of referrals before applying to court both to increase levels of work and to make more people aware of the potential benefits of mediation, we appear stalled, anecdotally because many courts simply ignore the clear legal requirements. I certainly have had fairly spirited conversations with magistrates in particular about the fact that people have to pay to mediate unless they are eligible for legal aid. They think applying to court is free?
So, for now, sadly, it is down to all us mediators when asked what we do for a living to introduce what is an entirely unrevolutionary idea to the many people who still have no inkling about what is a seriously good idea.