I hope some amongst you have noticed that this has been Family Mediation Week, an annual fixture started several years ago by the FMA and supported by all the FMC member organisations. Sadly I don’t think that the wider public is aware of the week and therefore gets the message about the possible benefits of mediation. As I seem to remember writing about this time last year, it saddens me that mediation (of whatever type) still needs a special week to try to raise its profile.
After all, you may ask, why would any remotely sane individual choose litigation over any chance to resolve a dispute? The reality is however that we humans appear to have an enormous capacity for conflict whether at a domestic, societal or international level. We seek vindication, revenge for past wrongs and our rights. We see that in so many countries either in armed conflict or in the extreme views which are increasingly apparent in so many countries. An observer from another planet could quite understandably form the view that we like to live in conflict.
It’s disingenuous therefore to expect that, in my field of family mediation, couples who started out with a vision of a life together but are now dealing with the pain, bitterness, grief and betrayal engendered by the destruction of that vision should behave better than anybody else. What we mediators need, from our clients in order to work with them constructively is an ability to separate themselves, at least most of the time, from emotion so they can focus on outcomes. Apart from those cases which founder on a failure to disclose or on worries about cost, the majority of my mediations which end without an outcome sink pulled down by the powerful undertow of unresolved emotions. That’s despite dealing with them openly in the mediation when they become an issue.
As I find myself increasingly dealing with couples whom anybody would categorise as high conflict, I know that what is needed in many cases is work to prepare clients so they are actually in a place where they can begin to deal with resolution. That requires an ability to envisage a separate future. I do my best at the individual meetings to deal with issues which I can see will be problematic. That however is not enough in itself. What I know I need, with many clients is the chance to work with them as individuals to prepare them for mediation itself. Some clients indeed need therapeutic help before they will be able to do that.
You might argue that those couples are better served by dealing with matters through their own solicitors. Set aside that many people choose on costs grounds only to use solicitors to a limited extent, the reality is that that does nothing to address the unresolved feelings which will affect how each individual rebuilds a life and which materially and seriously damage children caught in the crossfire.
So I only wish that mediation was so much a valued and accepted norm that mediation clients would accept that mediating successfully is a process which may well require some preparatory work. After all, the savings in emotional and financial cost could be substantial. The problem is that clients have no way of knowing that until it’s too late.