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‘Problems with your ex?’: McFarlane suggests mediation rebrand

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(5 October 2022)

Family mediation may need a rebrand if it is to play a greater role in keeping warring parents away from court, the president of the family division has suggested.

Delivering the John Cornwell lecture at this year’s Family Mediation Association Conference, Sir Andrew McFarlane questioned how well parents understood the term ‘mediation’.

He said: ‘It is put forward gently, rather than a statement of a firm conviction, but I wonder how well the term ‘mediation’ is understood by the parent in the street. I suspect that for some it is confused with conciliation, and then reconciliation or even marriage guidance. It may sound, to parents who may be angry, hurt and heavily defended as altogether too soft an option for them at that time. For others, mediation may be perceived simply as a “hurdle to jump” before getting to court, and not as a serious route to a sustainable solution in its own right.

‘I may be wrong, but I suspect that I am not alone. If I am right, the message of what you are offering is either not getting out there or it is the wrong message. What mediation offers is a structured and safe environment in which those in dispute can discuss and hopefully resolve their problems. It is professional help with problem solving. If someone’s car breaks down, the advertising message is “Call the AA, the 3rd Emergency Service”. I feel that “Family Mediation” needs a strapline that sits, in bigger font, above the word “mediation” along the lines of “Need to resolve problems with your Ex? Don’t go to court, call FMA – we can help you both work out a way forward on your own terms”.’

With the government a big fan of mediation to keep civil disputes away from court, McFarlane’s speech focused on what mediation could look like, especially if it becomes compulsory.

If mediation becomes compulsory, McFarlane suggested parents should be required to attend an ‘IAM’ rather than a ‘MIAM’ (mediation information assessment meeting).

‘That is, the meeting to which both parents should be required to attend should be with a generalist professional who can impart information [‘I’], guidance and advice [‘A’] more generally about parenting after separation, or, as it may be, resolution of financial issues. The advice would include basic neutral advice about the law and the legal structure. It should, in my view, also include a description of ‘what normal looks like’, along the lines proposed in the EI [early interventions] model,’ he said. The central proposition of the EI model, McFarlane explained earlier in his speech, ‘is that there should be a set of widely available and judicially endorsed guidelines or templates for the pattern of child arrangements that are likely to meet a child’s welfare needs in normal circumstances, depending on age and other factors’.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)