Original article by Gary Direnfeld (Canadian social worker) – October 4, 2014
People attend mediation to resolve conflict and this article is specifically aimed at mediation to resolve parenting disputes related to the care of children between separated/divorced parents.
When considering mediation to resolve parenting disputes, one should always consider what issues are involved and what outcomes are desired, in order to find neutral ground.
On the matter of issues, it may be difficult to remain neutral and may not be appropriate to remain neutral. Domestic violence, conflict, drug/alcohol abuse are known to be harmful and often put one person at risk of harm over the other and at times, even at the hand of the other. Neutrality in the face of these and other issues may equal complicity or tacit acceptance. This really isn’t neutral or safe.
Parents should be aware of the natural contribution to distress which these issues impose, when trying to promote wellness (social, emotional, physical and even spiritual) and they should offer guidance to address those issues that otherwise drive conflict. In consideration of “doing no harm”, the mediator must address these issues as mentioned above, for to not address them is tantamount to complicity and/or tacit acceptance, resulting people being at risk of harm. This is far from neutral, as it inadvertently reinforces dysfunctional/unlawful/dangerous behaviour.
It is best to respect self-determination and remain neutral with regard to the outcome. People can still decide for themselves – good or bad. In the end, it is their life – assuming the behaviour in question is not a required reportable offence.
Mediation is more than compromise and Direnfeld sees it as having loftier general goals.
He says that intermediaries aim at getting the parties subject to mediation to learn to resolve disputes respectfully, as well as address those conditions within themselves that may contribute to ongoing harm and/or conflict. This creates more durable, lasting agreements. This means that parents themselves are part of the solution.
However, in the area of family mediation where children’s lives hang in the balance, remaining neutral with regard to outcome can be a daunting task. As family mediators, the well-being of children is top-of-mind, particularly when conflict can fog the parental view of children’s needs. Outcome though, still remains a parental prerogative.