The Many Uses of Mediation

The idea of mediating when there’s a divorce or separation is now part of the mainstream. As a family mediator you use a mix of hard and soft skills to assist clients to reach their own agreement. The mediator’s role is that of a facilitator of negotiations. As those negotiations are in the overall context of family law there are therefore well-established ground rules. For a professional standing outside the arena, it’s fairly easy to see the range of possible outcomes once the facts are established. That after all is what family lawyers do all the time when advising clients.

The challenge for a mediator is that your clients aren’t standing outside the arena calmly evaluating the issues. They are dealing to a lesser or greater degree with the emotional fallout. They are unpicking a life built together or trying to square the infinite circle of sharing time with their children. There is usually anger and often sadness. The mediator’s skills involve allowing emotions voice and helping people come to terms with them whilst all the while trying to ensure that actual discussions about outcomes stay more or less on track. If you are a divorce lawyer you know how demanding that can be when just dealing with your own client. You may then begin to see how hard it can be to acknowledge the concerns and feelings of two people whilst all the while remembering that your job is also to keep the focus on the actual negotiations.

The skills that demands can also be applied to a whole range of disputes where personal issues and emotions come into play. There are many analogies between family breakdown and the ending of a business relationship, be that a partnership or that between the shareholders in a limited company. Then there are disputed probates where what’s in issue is often not just about the money.

Basically any case where there are not only legal/financial disputes but also a falling out between people fits right into the skill set of a family mediator. People are often seeking resolution not only of the legalities but also a way of reconciling themselves to altered circumstances on an emotional level.

It well may be that, before a court application, such cases could usefully be referred to a family mediator.

Looking at beginnings rather than endings, mediation can be an excellent way for couples to decide what goes in a pre-nup. One of the many reasons why these can be so fraught is the dissonance between the high romance of planning a wedding and entering into an agreement which contemplates the ending of the marriage that hasn’t even begun. Sitting down together to talk about priorities and what each considers fair with the assistance of a mediator can make the whole thing a constructive discussion about what matters to each in the marriage. You never know, it may make the whole union more robust. It’s stunning how few people have proper conversations about the essential nuts and bolts before marriage.

Mediators like me can assist a whole range of people other than divorcing couples using the skills developed in what are often the most difficult negotiations imaginable.

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