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Dr Shelagh Wright - Systemic and Family Psychotherapist and Family Mediator

I've Been Thinking - Dr Shelagh's Blog


Traditionally divorcing couples would have engaged a lawyer each and let the lawyers fight over the details, which is a costly and time consuming process. This often left couples angry and bitter towards each other which inevitably had a negative impact on any children from the marriage. Over the last 20 years mediation has become a more easily accessible process and recognised buy all concerned as a helpful way to start: although saying that mediation can be sought at any point in the legal process of divorce, however increasingly couples are being asked to seek mediation before going down the litigation route. In the legal aid system it is a requirement that couples try it out first. From this one might assume that mediators and lawyers might be in conflict over business: not so. Lawyers generally value the mediation process and are now required to recommend, to their clients, trying it first. The relationship between most lawyers and mediators is a co operative one working together to ensure that reasonable fair agreements are made between the two parties that can be ratified by the court. Many family lawyers are also trained mediators, although they cannot be both for the same client.

The ways in which mediation can help seems to be mainly through the couple themselves being responsible for making the decisions that form the agreement. Having a facilitated discussion enables couples to keep the lines of communication open sufficiently for them to come to agreement on issues that can be highly emotive, which is crucial when there are children involved. It can sometimes be appropriate for children to be directly involved in mediation: children will often have ideas for solutions that the adults have not thought of. A mediator working directly with children will be required to undertake some additional training and be checked by the Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) with enhanced disclosure. The benefits of mediated agreements are that they can be made in a safe and focussed environment of discussion and negotiation where the mediator can ensure that everyone gets heard and couples and other family members can form a relationship that will enable ongoing productive communication. In addition mediated agreements can be remediated or changed as circumstances change. Where mediation is unsuccessful it can prove a much costlier process for those concerned. It has also to be said that not everyone can reach an agreement in mediation due to the personal position of the parties or that they are unable to meet together (for reasons of safety or other reasons) which is a requirement. Mediation is particularly useful for most aspects of family breakdown due to all parties having a similar desired outcome in that the welfare and needs of children involved is important to both parties. Obviously there will be many issues that the couple disagree on but they will both likely to agree that the children are important. The mediator can use different resource materials to aid the process, for example books, leaflets, information sheets, and videos. Sometimes hearing about the experiences of other people can help a person engage in a process, although for some people it might feel as though they are 'getting it wrong' if they have experienced it differently. It is important to remember that everyone is different and experience things differently so what is helpful for one person may not be for the next.

The court process can often feel a bit like a blunt instrument delivering a decision that possibly no one is happy with, whereas the mediation process can feel more user friendly with trained professionals that want to help the people involved come to a workable agreement that they can live with. The mediation process provides the people involved with sufficient time to identify and clarify the issues before beginning to negotiate the desired outcomes. This process necessarily involves considering various options by thinking about how they might work in reality (reality testing) now and in the near future to ensure that the agreement is as good a fit as it can be, leaving everyone with an understanding that as things change for the family the agreements may need to be varied in time. This is all exercised within in a reasonable time frame and for significantly reduced costs with the open option of returning to the negotiation in the future with out incurring huge further costs.

Family Mediation Audio