The Truly Voluntary Mediation Client

How many times do you hear yourself explain to clients at initial meetings that mediation is voluntary? Like most mediators I guess I then go on and say it has to be as it will involve negotiation and compromise and that, however hard I work, there will only be an outcome if they are committed to using the mediation process to achieve one. I know as my client nods wisely that he or she can’t possibly have a clue about how hard that process can be at times. That means it needs real commitment- or a positively allergic reaction to the court alternative- to stick with it at times. I wonder how those who sometimes suggest mediation should be enforced could begin to convince me that clients who don’t want to be in the mediation process at all could be made to go the distance. Mediation can be hard enough for the mediator when clients want to use it. My mind boggles at how I would begin to work with a refusenik forced to be there by some higher power.

Also I often wonder as I explain that first principle how truly voluntary mediation is in certain circumstances. Leave aside that there’s a strong possibility that at least one of the clients doesn’t really want to  separate at all, then electing to mediate when faced with the court option doesn’t always feel all that much of a free choice, just the best of a bad job. It’s our job as mediators to try to ensure that the process comes to seem a far better option- one within which there is a large measure of autonomy over options and which affords the chance to build a future one has chosen for one’s self rather than one created by the system.

But then, to brighten the mediator’s day, although they sometimes seem as rare as hens’ teeth, there are those couples who have decided together that, recognizing the need to resolve issues, they want to find a way of doing that which feels fair, of which they are in control but which offers them professional guidance. They are the truly voluntary clients. They aren’t thinking about avoiding court. They don’t want to become embroiled in a long battle. They just want help with plotting their own route towards the future. They have heard about mediation, indeed may know people who have mediated. It seems a good option to them in what is a very bad set of circumstances.

Such clients are a joy to any mediator as they approach the whole process with positivity and a true will to make it work. The thing that always staggers me is that there are still so few of them. It can feel that mediation is, even after all this time, something of a well kept secret. However over the last 12 months I have had many more such clients approaching me than ever before- hardly a tsunami of interest but at least a constant trickle.


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