Separating spouses use different ways to dis-entangle and re-organize their lives. Family mediation is one widely available option to separating spouses, but not all mediations are alike. Mediation will look and feel different depending on the mediator's preferred style and the clients they are working with.
Here are some things to look for before you begin your family mediation process.
Intake meetings with each participant are a private and confidential opportunity for the mediator to get to know each participant and for the participants to know the mediator. Intake meetings are also a time for participants to ask questions in private and to explain any concerns they have.
Screening for suitability. Not all separating spouses are suitable or ready to participate in mediation. Family Mediators will screen participants to ensure they are comfortable speaking for themselves, they can see things from another's perspective (for example from the children’s point of view), and to ensure that any safety concerns or power imbalances can be managed.
Signing an Agreement to Mediate. The Agreement to Mediate is a contract between the family mediator and the participants. The Agreement to Mediate will detail whether mediation is open or closed, the mediation process, the confidentiality of mediation and any limits to confidentiality, and any policies specific to that mediator.
Family Mediators should be accredited by one of the provincial or national organizations. In Ontario, the two accrediting bodies are OAFM and FDRIO. These organizations ensure family mediators have the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience to lead family mediations. They also provide a complaints process and set standards of practice.
Although accredited family mediators receive similar training, they can come from a variety of professional backgrounds and bring their unique skills and style to the work. Mediators may be social workers like Caroline, lawyers, other mental health professionals, religious leaders, or divorce financial professionals. Within the field of mediation, there are different styles of mediation that are practiced. Let’s consider some of the most common mediation styles:
Facilitative mediations are quite common. Using this mediation style, the mediator will support or facilitate the negotiation between the participants. The mediator will avoid making recommendations or providing opinions. Facilitative mediators will use a variety of techniques to explore the participants' needs, wants, and worries. The mediator assists the spouses to consider any options open to them and the spouses evaluate these options before reaching their own solutions. Facilitative mediations may be conducted in a joint session or in a shuttle style.
Evaluative mediations are also common and are more often conducted by mediators who are/were practicing family lawyers. Evaluative mediators make recommendations or provide opinions and suggestions to the parties. Evaluative family mediators often help the participants assess the legal strengths of their positions. This type of mediation is often conducted "shuttle" style with the participants in separate rooms or separate breakout rooms if mediation is being held over a video link.
Insight Oriented Mediations are a newer to the field of family mediation. Insight oriented mediators understand conflict results from people defending against threats to the things they care about. Insight oriented mediators help the spouses understand each other’s cares and reach resolutions that meet their needs and respects the things that are most valuable to each of them.
Therapeutic Mediation is less commonly practiced in Ontario. Therapeutic mediators work to help parties resolve their conflicts and to repair the relationship dysfunction. This does not mean restoring the marriage rather, the mediator will work with the participants to ensure that the relationship difficulties that lead to separation do not continue after the separation.
It is unlikely that mediators adhere strictly to only one style of mediation, although having a preference is expected. Experienced and reflective mediators will enhance their style preference with knowledge and skills from other mediation styles, so they can offer a mediation process that is responsive to the conflicts, needs and personalities of the spouses in the room. No matter the mediator style, spouses should both feel they have good working relationship with the mediator. Feel free to contact Caroline to ask more about her mediation process and style.