While family mediators have moved from their own smaller home into a much larger, shared home, the collaboration with conflict resolvers in other areas of practice can only enrich the practice of family mediation. The membership of the Family Section (which is the largest section of conflict resolvers in this new organization) will be looking to expanding the domain of family mediation. While this domain will continue to include divorce and child custody/visitation mediation, mediation of pre-nuptial agreements, dependency mediation, parent-child mediation, mediation of gay and lesbian couple disputes, of elder care, of family wills and estates, of family business, adoptions, post-divorce and stepfamily disputes, the field, without doubt, will continue to grow even beyond these already diverse areas.
One area of controversy that is gaining steam in the public arena (family court system), as well as in the private sector, is the idea of blending mediation with evaluations, in an attempt to more efficiently service families that are in higher conflict. Currently, about one-third of California’s Family Court Services utilizes a pure and traditional model of mediation for custody and visitation disputes, in which, in the event mediation is unsuccessful, the mediators maintains complete confidentiality and make no recommendations to the court regarding custody and visitation schedules. However, about two-thirds utilize a mediation/arbitration model for resolving child custody disputes, whereby, in the event that no agreement is reached in mediation, the same mediator makes recommendations for a custody/visitation plan to the Court. Utilization of this latter model has been increasing across California’s counties over the past decade, and it has stirred very strong sentiment among purist mediators. The movement has seemed to be in the direction of efficiency for the Court at the expense of family self-determination.
However, the Center for Families, Children, and the Courts (formerly called the California Statewide Office of Family Court Services) has carefully and systematically documented (through its regular “Snapshot Studies” of the process and outcomes of virtually all mediations done in a two-week period in family courts throughout the state), the exponential increase in high conflict, multi-problem families who utilize the courts for their parenting disputes. Moreover, these families are not able to effectively utilize pure mediation models. Yet, traditional custody evaluations are both costly and extremely adversarial, in both process and outcome. So, a blend of models is being refined, in both the public and the private sectors, whereby custody evaluations are fed back to the family and the attorneys first, in the format of a settlement conference that includes a mediator facilitating negotiations among the parents, their attorneys, and the evaluator. The Oregon Family Institute has developed this model as a “nonadversarial, collaborative Parenting Plan and Custody Evaluation” process, and documents much success with it.
With the merger of the conflict resolution organizations, we will begin to witness the development of newer and more creative models and methods for resolving family conflicts. We invite you to join us in the search by contributing your feedback, in the form of your favorite articles, your ideas, your questions, your comments, and your concerns. We do want this site to be an interactive collaboration among professionals and the public.
Thank you for your participation.