Family Mediation: Frequently Asked Questions

Learn about mediation, as this article compiles information so you have a better understanding of the process ahead of you. For most people, mediation is the best way to resolve the conflicts of divorce.

By Deborah Lynn Zutter, Certified Comprehensive Family Mediator and Collaborative Divorce lawyer
Updated: July 30, 2014
Divorce Mediation

What is mediation?

Family mediation is a method of dispute resolution. People work with the mediator to identify the matters that need to be addressed, express their individual objectives, develop and consider options, and reach detailed agreements. Participation is voluntary. Each decision is voluntary.

What kinds of family disputes?

People who are separating or divorcing often use family mediation to make decisions about how to deal with the family assets and debts, spousal support, child support, and developing parenting plans.

Family mediation may also be used by couples to negotiate the terms of their relationship. It can be used to discuss the provisions of their prenuptial agreement. Or if the couple is already married and considering separation, mediation may be used to negotiate a relationship that continues, but on different terms.

Parents and teens can make use of mediation to work out behavioural issues. Aging parents and adult children may resolve disagreements over medical treatment, housing choices, perhaps even estate provisions.

What is the mediator's role?

I help people negotiate. In doing so, I remain impartial, favouring no one. I make suggestions about procedures that will help you to identify the matters that need to be resolved, to identify personal and joint objectives, and to consider possible options. I encourage participants to reach detailed agreements. I do not give legal advice.

What happens in mediation?

Initially, I meet separately with each person to:

  • describe mediation;
  • discuss whether mediation is the right process to use at this time;
  • plan the mediation; and
  • help participants prepare for the joint mediation meetings.

Then, we have one or more joint mediation meetings. Although lawyers may attend, you may decide that you do not need their attendance. During meetings, I may suggest a brief, separate meeting with each participant.

In the joint mediation meeting, you agree on what the problems are that need to be addressed. I assist you to express your own hopes, fears, concerns, and desires and to hear those of the other participant. Creative options are explored and workable solutions selected. If requested, I prepare the agreement. I encourage you to review it with your lawyer, as it is important to understand what the agreement means now and in the future. Sometimes we meet again to refine aspects of the agreement.

Is the mediation confidential?

Yes. All discussions between the mediator and the participants, and some of the documents provided at mediation, are confidential. I may discuss matters with each client’s lawyer. Confidentiality does not apply when children are in need of protection and when behaviour of a serious criminal nature arises. The Agreement to Participate in Family Mediation contains provisions about confidentiality that you may review alone or with your lawyer.

How do I prepare?

Gather documents that provide the information relevant to the decisions that you have to make. If you are separating or divorcing, use the Family Law Document Check List (see Law & Mediation Tools) to collect the documents that you will need. Bring copies for me and your partner to the mediation. Think about and list what is important to you. Anticipate and list what you believe is important to the other person. Be ready to consider different ways to reach your goals.

How many meetings?

The number of meetings varies and is influenced by the level of emotion, the number of issues, and the complexity of each issue.

In addition to the preliminary conferences, there is at least one joint mediation meeting. There may be several three-hour meetings. The time between meetings allows for reflection about the discussion and tentative decisions reached at the preceding meeting and for gathering any information that was requested during the meeting.

How long are the meetings?

Preliminary Conferences last about one hour. Depending on the circumstances, joint meetings last for two hours, a half-day, or an entire day.

What is involved in gathering data for mediation?

Data gathering can be complex and multi-faceted. It includes the following tasks:

  • Identifying what data, which documents and what expert reports or opinions are needed to make decisions;
  • Seeking information to prove or disprove assumptions;
  • Obtaining necessary documents, such as tables, books of account, financial statements, accident reports, engineering reports and so forth;
  • Organizing and making the appropriate number of copies of the information;
  • Exchanging data and information among the disputants and their lawyers;
  • Requesting missing data, documents or expert reports in the possession of the other disputant or lawyer;
  • Exchanging summaries of cases and witness statements;
  • Verifying the accuracy of information;
  • Developing ways to deal with uncertain, contradictory or missing information;
  • Seeking agreement on facts;
  • Clarifying disagreements on facts; and
  • Quantifying the legal fees and expenses incurred to the date of the mediation and the projected costs of not settling at mediation.

Addressing these tasks facilitates problem solving at the joint mediation meeting by minimizing the chances of adjournments and unproductive meetings because the disputants have identified, organized, and brought to the mediation the data and documents that they need to make decisions.

Deborah Lynn Zutter practises Collaborative Divorce and mediation in Vancouver. She is a conflict-resolution trainer and frequent public speaker who has taught mediation at the University of British Columbia, Faculty of Law. She is also the author of Preparing for Mediation: A Dispute Resolution Guide, 2nd ed.

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March 16, 2009
Categories:  Legal Issues

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