Family mediation has been an effective method of dispute resolution for over 40 years, but there are always new developments on the horizon.  Some of these innovations spill over from other well-developed mediation practices, others from development in our understanding of the psycho-social aspects of conflict. With the proliferation of technology, some of these developments add new processes, while others focus on the content of and approach of the mediation practice.

New Processes – Distance or On-line Mediation

Distance approaches have been used for many years in areas such as auto insurance dispute resolution or other areas of administrative law practice. When there is a lack of mediators in an area, or if it’s not feasible for parties to be in the same place, mediation sessions can take place remotely. This is accomplished using web teleconferencing services, such as Skype or Zoom, on text-based platforms that permit a chat discussion.  Distance mediation can be an effective way to resolve conflict, but there are cautions to consider in family mediation.

Mediate British Columbia’s guide “Mediating From a Distance” presents the view that only those who have well developed mediation skills should mediate using audio or video conferencing. The guide also offers excellent tips about how to practice and become comfortable with the technology that you will use in your mediation practice before commencing.  Another important tip is to consider whether your clients have different levels of comfort and skill with technology.  Like a difference in financial savey, differences in technology skill may need to be balanced by the addition of technical assistance to the less skilled participant.

Some of the advantages of video or online mediation may be that a vulnerable participant feels safer, and that a participant who is needs more time to process information can be given time to frame a response. And of course, it allows parties in who live a distance from one another to still use mediation services. However, like all other aspects of the mediation process, the mediator should assess and reassess the use of technology as the mediation progresses, to ensure that it is not impeding progress.

Recent Mediation Approaches

Technology may be offering ways to bring people together remotely, and at the same time new theories of how to bring people together to heal their conflict also abound.

Narrative Mediation is based on an idea that disputes catch people up in a conflict story that is painful and problematic.  It is an approach that separates people from their conflict story and that supports the development of a relationship story that people would prefer.  [1] People develop a narrative of their own lives and the conflict (like the script to a play), and the goal of the mediator in narrative mediation is to help them develop an alternate script.  This new story offers opportunities to understand the conflict and make a settlement that addresses the emotional needs of the clients.

Insight mediation is designed to address the need for clients to feel that their values have been addressed through mediation. Insight mediation may be effective to deal with all values, but seems particularly well suited to address the loss of standing and sense of failure of clients who have “lost face” through the relationship breakdown process. Insight mediation techniques help the mediator interpret which values are at stake for the parties, and how threats to those values can be resolved.

Integrative mediation has been described as a “progressive approach to conflict resolution that addresses all aspects of a dispute—legal, financial, psychological, and emotional—maximizing the odds of a more efficient, cost-effective process and the achievement of a deeper, more comprehensive resolution. [The] approach typically pairs a lawyer-mediator and a mental health professional-mediator who jointly attend to all the needs of the parties in helping them to reach a mutually satisfactory and holistic resolution to their dispute”.[2]

What all of these newer approaches have in common is a therapeutic desire to resolve clients’ emotional and social needs as well as their legal needs.  The challenge for mediators is that if mediation is to become the resolution for the majority, if not almost all, family law disputes, there may be clients who do not want to let go of their grievances (narrative), accept the disruption of their social values (insight) or delve deeply into their psychological and emotional needs (integrated). We may want to learn the skills, but not advertise the goals if we are to help the greatest number of clients.

Anne Marie Predko LLB FDRP Med. AccFMis a Toronto Mediator at Round Table Mediation (https://roundtablemediation.ca). Anne Marie has started a new mediation practice after a career as a family law lawyer and a government administrator of family court connected services and administrative tribunals.

[1] Adapted from  a presentation by Tahereh Barati, Ph.D. at the OAFM/OCLF conference May 3, 2019

[2] From https://imbayarea.com/contact/ Integrative Mediation Bay Area

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