Mediation, Simon Hughes MP and the MoJ

Simon Hughes and the MoJ ask:

  1. What barriers are currently in place for family mediation?
  2. What else could be done to promote mediation?
  3. How have you promoted mediation in your local area?

OnlyDads and OnlyMums are not mediation specialists, but our organisation attracts many thousands of emails and questions from those going through the family law experience. What follows is informed by this data collection exercise and is our initial response to the MoJs initiative:

Barriers:

  1. Costs. In particular couples are very unclear how long it will take to arrive at a conclusion when they start mediation. Many describe it as “too open-ended”.
  2. Knowledge about the mediation process itself – some (dads especially) think it’s something akin to “getting back with the ex”
  3. Many don’t trust the ex and can’t bring themselves to even sit in the same room.
  4. Many (and again we would highlight dads) feel a judge, and a judge only, will accept their version of events.
  5. There is a common feeling with mums and dads that if the other chooses a mediator, then that mediator will be “their” mediator and may be biased as a result.
  6. The “ex doesn’t turn up despite repeated requests”
  7. The “kerfuffle at the fridge over the taking of some family photographs” gets turned into accusations of domestic abuse and mediation doesn’t even get started.
  8. Situation where there is a historic power in-balance – cases involving domestic abuse.

 How to Promote Mediation Services:

Sweeping generalisation – but perhaps women are more attuned into mediating in general then men. If that is the case, concentrating on men (dads) would seem to be a sensible approach.

Beware of more “top-down” promotion. The “sorting out separation” initiative was always going to be doomed. Central Government getting directly involved in people’s lives, especially at times of breakdown, is not going to be welcomed. I’m guessing the DWPs official line is that it’s been very successful but we can assure you that from grassroots level, the scheme was viewed as unwarranted interference, not trusted, lacking the right questions and responses, and subsequently, resolutely panned!

Supporting groups like OnlyDads that don’t have campaigning / political bias but that work with mums and dads and encourage reconciliation – mediation with a small ‘m’ and a big ‘M” – will help. (Now we would say that! but I think the case stands up to close scrutiny).

Promoting Mediation in Locality

This is really a question for local Mediation services and our views are limited. That said, NFM and a few outward looking mediation services add links to site like ours and in turn, we help spread the word through social media. That works.

We are trying to finalise plans for the rolling out of more of our (to be mediator-led) dads groups. At a very local, grassroots, level these will help as work and support can be offered directly to address some of the barriers referred to above. We would encourage mediation services to keep in touch with us on developments.

We suggest the mediation sector to do more media work – you rarely hear the subject aired on local radio, for instance.

To find a mediation service in your area, please click here.

We would welcome your comments – especially on highlighting Barriers to Mediation. Many thanks. 

 

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About onlydads

Single Dad living near Totnes in Devon. I founded www.onlydads.org in 2007 and live with my daughters Priya, 14 and Anya 11. I write about single parenting, work, overcoming trials and tribulations and sometimes not overcoming trials and tribulations.
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4 Responses to Mediation, Simon Hughes MP and the MoJ

  1. Hi there, I’ve worked in mediation for 20 years and would like to respond to the ‘barriers’ list above:
    1. Costs – difficult to predict because different mediators have different charges but take similar rates as solicitors and reduce by about 25% and you are probably around the area of cost, although it may not be charged by the hour, more by the meeting. Time taken and ‘open-endedness’ ….it will take as long as it needs to meet with each participant separately and then to arrange and run a joint meeting / meetings with them. If participants are available to meet it could take no more than 2 weeks! But more likely to be around 5-6 weeks because of need to co-ordinate availabilities of those involved.
    2. Mediation is not about getting people back together it’s about helping those involved in any difficult situation, in this case, the consequences of separation, to work out an effective way forward that works for both ex-partners. It’s a discussion that ensures both participants are able to state what’s important to them and to work together on the next steps rather than against each other. It acknowledges that there is a difficult relationship but that’s really the point, mediation is assisting because there is a difficult relationship, so it’s supporting an effective conversation rather than an argument, that helps those involved to decide how they are going to continue their post-separation relationship so that child access is more easily discussed and arranged. It can also help participants to decide ‘who gets what and why’ in terms of money and assets following the separation.
    3. It may be that the ex-partners ‘can’t stand to be in the same room’ but mediation’s about resolving the consequences of having been in a relationship and now having separated and acknowledging that ‘not resolving’ them isn’t really an option as the issues won’t go away. The process is designed to help people who may have a dislike for each other to still have an effective conversation. Some may decide that the difficulty of being in the same room means they’d rather go via court, and that’s their choice…..but it will cost more, and take longer and is unlikely to lead to the flexible kind of outcome created by those involved once they’ve used mediation to create something that works for them. A court decision will mean things are imposed on them by officials who don’t know the details of their daily lives, and so it is often the case that repeated court visits are a feature of post separation because the decisions don’t work out practically for the ex-partners. In mediation, no one is imposing an outcome, it is created by the ex-partners themselves.
    4. In mediation, the mediator isn’t there to ‘accept a version of events’ , or alternatively it could be said that they accept everyone’s version of events. We are not involved to make a judgement about who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s been ‘at fault’, who’s been ‘the victim’ etc. Our role is to help participants have a conversation about the way forward, not to sift through the past to find proof of blame. It’s sole purpose is to help people who are in a difficult situation to create a better way forward than that which presently exists.
    5. A good mediator makes it clear to all involved that they are not ‘representing’ either participant, even if one of the ex-partners is the one who found the mediator, and any feeling that a participant has that they are doing so can be challenged. As it is a voluntary process, if someone feels that’s happening they have every right to withdraw. But a mediator who knows what they are doing isn’t going to try to ‘persuade’ people to take one action or another or act in ways that side with one participant or another, as that would breach their impartiality guarantee. They trust that those involved are able to work out for themselves what works and what doesn’t so they are not going to take sides for one or against another person involved in the situation.
    6. Mediation is a voluntary process so if someone doesn’t turn up without it being for a ‘proper reason’ such as illness or work or child care commitments etc. then it would suggest they don’t want to participate in it. Usually however it is clarified at the initial meeting stage when each participant is met with separately, whether they wish to proceed with mediation.
    7. The whole point of mediation is to discuss such events if they seem relevant to how things are presently in the post-separation relationship, or to put them in the past if they don’t contribute to a movement forward in the situation. A mediator would explore such events to see in what way those involved see them as being relevant to moving forward. One party may not see it as so, the other may, and that can be true of a lot of issues, so the point is to help further understanding to occur so that it doesn’t remain a problem in the future. Mediation isn’t always about people ‘agreeing’ it can often be just about getting a greater understanding without having to agree with one person’s interpretation of what happened or ‘prove’ it to be correct/incorrect.
    8. Mediation is a voluntary process and so if someone doesn’t want to take part in it because of previous abuse that is their right. The recently introduced mandatory aspect in divorce mediation is that those involved have to consider it and attend an information meeting about it, but they don’t have to take part in the actual process if they don’t wish. (It’s called a Mediation Initial Assessment Meeting which is a bad title as it suggests others are ‘assessing’ the participants – actually it’s for the participants to assess the mediation process and decide if they want to take part in it) Conversely, those who have experienced domestic abuse would not be excluded from taking part in mediation if they still wanted to, but the decision has to be theirs alone, and no-one else’s. Again, a good mediator will ensure that all who are involved are making the decisions about their participation or otherwise. And just to be clear -NO ONE can make someone take part in mediation, so any sense from any official that someone ‘has to’ take part is incorrect. What they are expected to do now is attend the information meeting about mediation but that is so that people can make an informed decision about whether it is for them or not.
    Following on from the above, it’s not the case that men are any more/less likely to participate than women. It is something that is open to all and is initiated by either partner. Focusing on anyone who may be involved is the best way forward in removing the barriers.
    Hope that helps,
    Alan

  2. onlydads says:

    Really interesting comments, Alan. Thank you so much for this input. Bob

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