Family mediation is a process which helps separating couples to resolve their legal, financial and emotional issues. It helps them discuss arrangements for their children and their future together and is much quicker, cheaper and less acrimonious than bringing a case to court. NFM was one of the first providers of family mediation and has a network across England and Wales of accredited services. Its avowed mission is to “help families who are separating stay close to each other and share their love for their children”.
A number of factors have contributed to the growth of family mediation, including a lack of court time, the increase in international parental child abduction, a growing recognition of the impact that acrimonious legal proceedings can have on a family, and the recognition that alternative dispute resolution processes offer specific advantages to parents when their relationship breaks down. One of these advantages is that mediation allows for discussions in a confidential, private, neutral and informal way about difficult issues such as parenting or finances and the option to agree a ‘bespoke’ arrangement that suits each family.
The Family Mediation Council (FMC) has a statutory role to monitor and promote the quality of publicly funded family mediation, and set standards for mediators in England and Wales. It has also launched National Family Mediation Week, to raise awareness of the importance and benefits of mediation in separating families. It is hoped that the event will help to encourage more people to access this service and reduce the number of disputes brought to court.
However, whilst a number of factors have encouraged the growth of family mediation, a significant barrier to reform has emerged, rooted in the tensions felt within the profession itself. Anecdotal evidence suggests that friction exists between two distinct mediator sub-groups, the lawyer mediator and the therapeutic mediator. The tensions between these sub-groups may impede the work of the FMC and hamper efforts to unify family mediators, encourage standard practice and promote a sense of national identity for the profession.
In the early years of family mediation, services tended to be not-for-profit and reliant on therapists, social workers and counsellors to act as mediators. These are now commonly known as therapeutic mediators. In contrast, later services tended to be run by lawyers who have been trained in family mediation. The two types of mediation may be distinguished by their professional background and, in some cases, by whether they are able to accept public funding via the voucher scheme.
This research aims to explore how and why these distinctions have evolved and the extent to which they continue to influence the quality of family mediation offered. It is based on 17 in-depth interviews with family mediators and includes a focus on the hybrid mediator, who bridges the divide between the two dominant sub-groups. The findings of this research will inform a debate about how to best protect the distinctive role of the family mediator and foster the development of the profession in the contemporary landscape. national family mediation