The benefits of mediation in family disputes

by | Jul 29, 2014

Can mediation solve family disputes? And if so what are the benefits of mediation in family disputes? Families are complex systems with several players. The way in which they function involves a combination of rational and emotional elements. It is only natural that people with their own individual talents, interests and perspectives do not always get along harmoniously. Spouses, children (clash of generations) and other members of the family system can all experience conflicts.

Can mediation solve family disputes?

Isolated and limited measures often fail to achieve any sustainable and positive effects. Legal action and other forms of enforcement of unilateral interests can certainly lead to results, but also to hurt and long-harboured resentment. The latter situation is particularly undesirable if children are involved.

Mediation is not magic but a practical craft. It is based on an acceptance that conflict exists and that it can be addressed. However, the result is not a foregone conclusion. In some cases the conflicts can be completely resolved. In other cases this is not possible, but it at least results in the consensual resolution of the consequences of a conflict. In this way the original conflict is contained and prevented from further escalating.

This in itself can be a considerable advantage if one thinks of the financial and psychological consequences of litigation that could stretch over many years. In mediation the parties have the opportunity of settling their issue by mutual agreement. The alternative to this is often a legal judgment, which can sometimes be difficult to predict in advance.

The process

The process is led by a neutral mediator (or by two co-mediators), whose core role is to help the parties work out a solution. The process can vary, but the common principle is that the participants clearly define where they are coming from and identify the interests underlying their personal perspective. What a person explicitly says and what their actual concerns are can sometimes be two quite different things. It is only once this groundwork has been carried out that fruitful and creative solutions can be found. These must be recorded in writing at the end of the process.

Sessions can be held in a choice or combination of different settings:

  • The traditional set-up consists of individual meetings over several weeks.
  • In the case of one-day sessions the participants begin in the morning and work in an open-ended fashion; and it finishes in the evening, whether or not a solution has been reached.
  • In shuttle sessions the participants are in separate rooms, at least for some of the time, and the mediator moves between them.
  • The participants can always have their lawyers or advisors with them during the sessions.
  • Hotel sessions, which are mainly one-day sessions, take place in a peaceful hotel.

Mediation is thus an option for working on family disputes in an effective and solution-oriented manner.