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<xTITLE>Family Mediation: Research Facts</xTITLE>

Family Mediation: Research Facts

by Forrest (Woody) Mosten
August 1998 Forrest (Woody) Mosten
I. Who Chooses to Mediate?

  • Those who voluntarily agree to mediate generally have higher socio-economic status (education level, occupation status, income) than those who do not mediate. (Pearson (1989): 13)

  • Those who agree to mediate report better spousal communication patterns than those who do not agree to mediate. (Pearson (1989): 13)

  • Data does not support the view that those who choose to mediate are the couples with "easier" divorce cases, or the couples who are more communicative with their spouses. (Kelly (1989): 267)

  • Marital conflict and poor communication, non-mutuality in the divorce decision, and strained cooperation do not appear to act as barriers to selecting mediation. (Kelly (1989): 269)

  • Attorney support of the mediation processes influences parties to agree to mediation. (Pearson (1989): 14)

  • Those who choose mediation report significantly higher levels of divorce-related depression, guilt, and stress than those who do not choose mediation. (Kelly (1989): 269)

  • Men are significantly more positive about beginning the mediation process than women. (Kelly (1989): 272)

  • Whereas men's willingness to mediate is related to their recognition of a poor marriage, women's willingness to mediate is shaped by divorce-related anger they hold toward their spouse, their view of spousal integrity, and their perceived level of cooperation. (Kelly (1989): 273)

II. The Mediation Process

  • The factors during the mediation that were best able to predict settlement and willingness to recommend mediation are:

    (a) parties' perception of the mediator's ability to provide insights into their own feelings.

    (b) the mediator's ability to aid parties in understanding the feelings of children and ex-spouses. (Pearson (1989): 24)

  • When parties produce complaint responses, mediators adopt a less (or non-) confrontational intervention style. (Greatbach (1994): 94)

  • Back and forth blaming and fault-finding often become the central conversational activities of disputants in divorce mediation. (Tracy (1994): 119)

  • Children can escape the negative consequences of parental conflict when they are not caught in it by their parents, when their parents avoid direct aggressive expressions of their conflict in front of the child, or when they use compromise styles of conflict resolution. It is important to explore the extent to which the child is compromised by parental behavior which enlist the child in the parent's conflict agenda. (Kelly (1991): 2)

  • Mediators establish their impartiality to each party by diffusing negative comments of one party toward another. (Tracy (1994): 119)

III. Outcome and Satisfaction

  • Research on mediator qualifications has failed to show a correlation between the mediator's education and rough indicators of performance, such as settlement rates or satisfaction by the parties. (Pearson (1988): 435-441)

  • Mediation outcomes are affected by three elements:

    (a) the skill and behavior of the mediator

    (b) the characteristics of the disputants

    (c) the nature of the dispute (Pearson (1989): 23-24)

  • Disputants consider mediation less damaging to relationships with former spouses than traditional courtroom proceedings (Pearson (1989): 22-23)

  • Mediation appears to have a very limited ability to alter basic relationship patterns or promote cooperation between divorcing parties. (Pearson (1989): 23)

  • The pre-existing characteristics of disputes that best defined when disputants would settle and recommend mediation are: (a) the duration of the dispute; (b) the intensity of the dispute; and (c) the quality of the relationship with the ex-spouse. More recent and less severe disputes were most likely to be resolved, as were disputes between parties with at least a modest level of communications an cooperation. (Pearson (1989): 24)

  • Voluntary participation in mediation does not appear to produce higher settlement rates than mandated participation in mediation. (Pearson (1989): 14-15)

  • No evidence exists that voluntary versus mandatory mediation affects user satisfaction. (Pearson (1989): 15)

  • Mediation is effective in generating agreements on custody and visitation issues. (Pearson (1989): 18)

  • Mediation agreements relating to custody and visitation issues are no less stable than agreements generated in lawyer negotiations and court hearings. (Pearson (1989): 18)

  • No conclusive evidence exists on the compliance and relitigation patterns associated with mediation and adjudicated agreements. (Pearson (1989): 21)

  • Users find that mediation identifies the real issues in a dispute. (Pearson (1989): 19)

  • Users find that mediation is less rushed and less "superficial" than courtroom proceedings. (Pearson (1989): 19)

  • Parties who terminate the mediation process before reaching agreement on all divorce-related issues are not easily distinguished from those who complete mediation with an agreement. (Kelly (1989): 275)

  • Of those who reached agreement in mediation, two-thirds of both men and women agreed that spousal support was fair, and more than two-thirds of both men and women were satisfied with the division of property. (Kelly (1989): 279)

  • In divorced families, when mothers used negative dispute resolution styles, both mother-child and father-child relationships were poorer compared to families where mothers used cooperative strategies. (Kelly (1991): 1, citing Camera and Resnick)

  • Women report that the mediation process helped them assume more responsibility in managing their personal affairs than did men, and women had greater confidence in their ability to stand up for themselves as a result of the process. (Kelly (1989): 279)


David Greatbach and Robert Dingwall, The Interactive Construction of Interventions by Divorce Mediators, in New Directions in Mediation: Communication Research and Perspectives 84-109 (Joseph P. Folger and Tricia S. Jones eds., 1994)

Joan B. Kelly, Conflict and Post-Divorce Adjustment: A Closer Look, State Bar of California Family Law News, Fall, 1991, at 1

Joan B. Kelly and Lynn L. Gigly, Divorce Mediation: Characteristics of Clients and Outcomes, in Mediation Research 263-284 (Kenneth Kressel and Dean G. Pruitt eds., 1989)

Jessica Pearson and Nancy Thoennes, Divorce Mediation: Reflections on a Decade of Research, in Mediation Research 9-30 (Kenneth Kressel and Dean G. Pruitt eds., 1989)

Jessica Pearson and Nancy Thoennes, Divorce Mediation Research Results, In Divorce Mediation: Theory and Practice 429, 435-441 (Jay Folberg and Ann Milne eds., 1988)

Karen Tracy and Anna Spadlin, Talking Like a Mediator: Conversational Moves of Experienced Divorce Mediators, in New Directions in Mediation: Communication Research and Perspectives 110-134 (Joseph P. Folger and Tricia S. Jones eds., 1994)


Forrest (Woody) Mosten

Forrest (Woody) Mosten has been in private practice as a mediator since 1979 and currently is practicing mediation and collaborative law 100% online serving clients throughout the world. Woody is a founding partner of the Mosten-Guthrie Online Training Academy for Mediators and Collaborative Professionals. He is Adjunct Professor at UCLA School of Law where he teaches Mediation, Family Law Practice, and Lawyer as Peacemaker. He and has been in private practice as a mediator since 1979.

Woody is the author of six books and numerous articles on mediation, collaborative law, legal access, and building a peacemaking career. Woody served as convener for the 1999 international symposium, Training Mediators for the 21st Century. He has been Guest Editor for the Family Court Review’s special issues 4 times, most recently for the July 2015 issue on Peacemaking for Divorcing Families.

Woody trains mediators, collaborative professionals, and lawyers in conflict resolution courses ranging from basic to master classes and trainings for mediation trainers and presents keynotes at conferences throughout the world.  In 2019, Woody received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Professional Family Mediators and, in 2020, the Southern California Mediation Association established the Forrest Mosten Star Award for Excellence and Innovation in Mediation. Woody can be reached at

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