How Does Family Mediation Work in Practice?

Many people ask us how does family mediation physically work in practice? Some people start out under the false assumption that the process is somewhat like counselling.

When it comes to family mediation services, Ireland has both public and private client options available.

Mediation is a dispute resolution process. It helps people to resolve their issues without having to go into a contested court case.

Mediation can be used to resolve issues regarding child custody, child access, guardianship, divorce, legal separation, sibling disputes, child maintenance, spousal maintenance, and disputes regarding inheritances amongst other matters.

Mediations can either take place with everyone in the same room, or the two sides to the dispute in two separate rooms. The mediators will either work with both parties present or work between the two rooms.

How long does mediation take? That depends on what needs to be resolved. In practice, most family disputes take on average five to seven sessions to conclude. The sessions can last upwards of an hour and a half. Generally, no longer than that.

The mediators examine the dispute between the two sides and strip it down to it’s bare bones. They then examine how the dispute escalated. In doing so they have regard for all the different components of a dispute. The power balance between the parties, communication issues, gender issues, financial components, interests and positions and persuasiveness. Having regard to all the various components to a dispute the mediators lead the parties into a path of communication that leads them towards the resolution of the dispute.

We use the co-mediation method which uses a male and female mediator in each scenario. We find that two mediators provide better gender balance.

In the majority of cases, when we commence mediations, there is a lot of repair work to be conducted on the communications front. In disputes, people have a tendency to issue the other side with ultimatums. We teach people to switch off “the language of threats” and to revert into a problem-solving stance. The tools we teach people in mediation serve them well in other types of disputes they encounter in life.

In entering the process the mediators ask parties to examine their needs and wants. They ask the parties to reflect on what outcome they would like to see to the process. More importantly, they ask people to consider alternatives that might resolve the dispute.

The process starts with both sides getting a chance to read a short opening statement to the other side. Generally, its only a few lines in length. It can be as long as the parties like. It is not an opportunity to take pot-shots at the other side. We find in family mediations that parties use this as an opportunity to tell the other side why they are really here and what they hope to achieve. Parties generally reflect at this time on their desire for resolution for themselves and any children that might be involved.

The earlier part of divorce or separation mediations generally deals with the financial aspects of the dispute. Both sides make a financial declaration to each other in the financial summary document. The mediators assist the parties in organising their paperwork. Generally, this involves recent wage slips, P60’s, annual accounts, bank statements, credit card statements and any other documents used to vouch your financial circumstances. On average this can take two sessions.

The information and research gained from this part of the process will assist parties at the later stages of the mediation when we discuss future financial arrangements. Parties generally find this part of the process useful as it allows people to do some homework on their daily spend on bills such as groceries, utilities and clothing. Often people are shocked by the results as to how much they are spending. This is commonplace for the vast majority of families in Ireland today.

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Custody, Guardianship and Access

Custody, Guardianship and Access

There is a substantial amount of confusion in the media in terms of the difference between custody, guardianship and access. In mediation we are more concerned with parents discussing headings such as parenting plans, the children’s access to each of us and our parental responsibilities. It is important to note that our perception of terms such as “custody” is heavily influenced by foreign TV and media. Custody in Ireland is quite different to the definition used in other countries.

The party who has custody has day to day care and control of the children. It is not uncommon for the courts to make joint custody orders in respect of children subsequent to a separation or divorce. Generally, these orders will be subject to a proviso that the children primarily reside with one or other of the parties.

The majority of work conducted by family mediation service throughout Ireland and the U.K. relates to making arrangements for children.

Joint custody does not mean that the parties will enjoy access to the children 50% of the time. Practical day-to-day living arrangements generally do not facilitate a 50-50 split in terms of time with the children. Many couples have to work around this harsh reality after a separation.

Guardianship, by contrast, is the right of a parent to be involved in all the major decisions affecting the welfare and upbringing of a child to include, education, health, religious, moral and monetary concerns.

An unmarried mother will automatically be the guardian of her children when they are born. By contrast, an unmarried father must apply to the District Court to be appointed guardian of his children. Parents can also be appointed guardians by deed. However, our experience has shown that for documentation and state certification purposes a consent order of either the District Court or Circuit Court is advantageous for the parents of a child.

Custody, guardianship and access arrangements are best resolved quickly and efficiently through family mediation. No other process offers a quicker or more cost-effective solution to resolving access, guardianship and custody arrangements than mediation.

Access arrangements are best resolved by parties outside of a contentious court environment. Acrimonious court proceedings in respect of custody and access can not only damage the parties involved themselves but also their children whereby the level of trust and communication between the parties is erroded. Couples can work out and agree access arrangements for their children going forward around their daily lives.

At Family Mediation Ireland we are committed to helping couples resolve issues relating to the welfare of their children. Most families will conclude access arrangements regarding children in five mediation joint sessions spread out over a two day period. This will generally include, regular as well as holiday access arrangments. Such parenting plans will often include sections relating to educational matters, dietary concerns, passport issues, travel arrangements, bed-time arrangements, disciplining and parenting guidelines to mention but a few.

The process offers families the flexibility required to tailor make appropriate arrangements for children whilst taking into account parental responsibilities and obligations.