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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Parents See Conflict Reduction and Relationship Benefits from Mediation in Massachusetts

Jennifer Shack, March 2nd, 2020

Custody and parenting time mediation in Massachusetts is providing parents with multiple benefits while facilitating agreements. The most recent evaluation of the Parent Mediation Program in four counties, published by the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration in 2019, found that 74% of mediations ended in an agreement. Additionally, parents reported multiple benefits beyond agreement, including a reduction in conflict, better conflict resolution skills, greater civility and better communication.

Services for the program are provided by community mediation centers, who conduct intake with the parents and are contracted to provide one session at no charge to the parents. If additional sessions are needed, the parents agree to pay the center on a sliding fee schedule. For the evaluation, mediators were asked to complete a report after each mediation session. Additionally, mediators asked parents to complete a survey after the last mediation session (150 parents across 80 cases did so) and center staff conducted phone interviews with 94 parents in 70 cases four to ten weeks after mediation ended.

During fiscal year 2019 (July 2018 – June 2019), 141 cases were referred to the centers. Almost 2/3 of these referrals were from the courts and the rest were from the community. During this same time period, 129 mediations were completed. In 74% of these, some form of agreement was reached: 30% full agreement, 34% partial agreement, 16% temporary agreement). In surveys, 93% of parents said they needed to devise a parenting plan, and 77% said that mediation either fully (43%) or partially (34%) helped them with that. In their reports, mediators indicated that mediation led to progress on the parenting plan in a similar percentage of cases, at 80%.

Parents and mediators were asked about other benefits experienced through mediation. In surveys, parents said that conflict between them and the other parent was diminished in about 2/3 of the mediations, an assessment with which mediators agreed – stating conflict was diminished in 69% of mediations. This benefit appeared to last for weeks after mediation for many parents, as 53% of those who were interviewed said that conflict continued to be reduced.

Similarly, more than 2/3 of surveyed parents reported greater civility between them and the other parent. Again, this benefit remained over time, with 50% saying that they and the other parent treated each other with greater civility. Most parents also said that their communication had improved, with 72% of those surveyed saying so and 54% of those interviewed weeks later agreeing.  It’s not surprising, then, that 70% of surveyed parents, and 54% of those who were interviewed, believed their skills for resolving conflict had improved.

While research has shown these benefits to be important for the emotional well-being of the children, this study points to another effect. Nearly half of surveyed parents said that less conflict with the other parent and 33% said better communication with the other parent would help them to financially support their children.

Reduced conflict and better communication did not necessarily lead to greater involvement with their children, however. Roughly half of those who were surveyed said that the other parent’s time with the children decreased and 20% said there was no difference. In interviews, parents continued to see little to no difference in the other parent’s involvement in their children’s lives. Nonetheless, 36% of custodial parents reported that the other parent’s involvement was greater than before.

The many benefits identified by parents were likely one reason they had a positive experience in mediation. Fully 97% said they would use mediation again and 99% would recommend it to others. Large majorities also thought the mediator was fair and unbiased (84%), listened well to their concerns (82%), identified relevant issues (80%) and helped generate ideas (78%).

The full study includes more background information on the level of conflict between the parents (29% had a high level), complications between the parents, demographics and the parents’ custodial status. 

Perceptions of Trust-Building in Family Mediation

Jennifer Shack, November 26th, 2019

A small study of family mediation in Spain paints a picture of what parties and mediators believe promotes the parties’ trust in the mediator and points out differences in perspectives between the two groups. Identification of these differences can lead to improved training and professional practice, according to the researchers (Joan Albert Riera Adrover, Maria Elena Cuatrero Castaner, Juan Jose, Montano Moreno). They discuss this in their article, “Mediators’ and Disputing Parties’ Perception of Trust-Building in Family Mediation” (Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 2019).

For the study, the researchers recruited mediators from a single mediation provider organization. The mediators notified the parties of the research project at the outset of the mediation. If the parties consented to participate in the research, a researcher would meet with the parties at the end of the third joint session and had them complete a survey. Mediators also completed a survey at this time. In all, 31 mediators and 54 parties participated in the research over the course of a year. The mediators were primarily lawyers with an average of 1-6 years’ experience .

The researchers found eight factors which the parties were significantly more likely to say built trust with their mediator than compared to the mediator group. These were:

  • The mediator is familiar with legal aspects relating to the dispute
  • The mediator suggests an alternative or a way out of the dispute
  • The mediator provides candid and frank input about the dispute
  • The mediator does not linger too long on the dispute but advances toward its settlement
  • The mediator is appointed by an authority, such as a reputed judge
  • The mediator shows an interest in the parties’ mutual concerns and focuses on their common goals
  • The mediator highlights the rules of mediation
  • The mediator talks to the parties about informal matters as opposed to just talking about the dispute

Most of these should not be surprising. Indeed, for all of the above factors except suggesting an alternative and talking about informal matters, a majority of the mediators agreed with the parties about their importance for building trust. However, it does reinforce the notion that trust is about more than just rapport. Parties in this study trusted mediators who focused on resolution and presented alternative options to the parties.

It should be noted that there were numerous other factors for which a large majority of both mediators and parties said built trust. These included the mediator’s listening skills, fairness, impartiality, demeanor and capacity to understand the dispute. These all should be familiar to anyone involved in mediation, as they are generally considered necessary for trust-building.

This research is unique in that it matched up mediator and party perspectives on trust. It can help mediators to know what they should be emphasizing as they attempt to build trust. However, it was limited by a small sample size and lack of qualitative follow up to help elucidate the mediators’ and parties’ thinking.

Wisconsin Assembly Considers Bill that Would Require Proposed Parenting Plans to Be Submitted Before Mediation

Nicole Wilmet, May 28th, 2019

In Wisconsin, in any family law cases, including cases where legal custody or physical placement is contested, parties are required to attend at least one session of mediation. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement during this initial mediation session (or if mediation has been waived due to hardship or safety concerns), the parties are then required to file a parenting plan with the court. These parenting plans are required to contain a variety of information including the type of legal custody or physical placement sought, the child support and maintenance needed, as well as information on the parent’s current residence, employment, how the child’s medical expenses will be paid, and a proposed holiday placement schedule for the child.

The Wisconsin Assembly recently introduced a bill that would modify the parenting plan requirements and the timeline for mediation. Under the proposed legislation, each party would be required to submit a proposed parenting plan at least ten days prior to the initial mediation session. As a result, under this new schedule, mediators would discuss the content of these proposed parenting plans with the parties during their initial mediation session. The proposed bill also makes changes to the required contents of the parenting plans. Under the proposed bill, parenting plans would no longer be required to include information on the type of child support and maintenance sought or contain information about how the child’s medical expenses will be paid. Instead, the proposed bill would require parenting plans to include specific details about the various costs expected to be incurred by or on behalf of the child. In a recent video, Representative Robert Brooks and Senator Lena Taylor further discuss this bill, as well as four other proposed bills that address child custody and support.

Reflecting on RSI Focus Groups in Washington, DC

Susan M. Yates, March 1st, 2017

Last week I had the honor of accompanying Jennifer Shack, RSI’s remarkable Director of Research, to Washington, DC. Jen is the principal investigator on an RSI evaluation of the child protection mediation program[1] in the DC Courts. I came along to facilitate the focus groups that are part of the evaluation. Each of the focus groups brought together a distinct group of lawyers who participate in mediation regularly: Guardians ad litem, lawyers for parents and prosecutors. The focus groups provided insight into how differing interests shape how mediation is perceived.

I found that my mediation skills, honed over many years, made it easy to shift into the role of focus group facilitator. Asking open-ended questions, encouraging everyone to participate and keeping the conversation moving were all familiar. Unlike mediation, the group didn’t have a goal of reaching agreement and I found that to be kind of liberating! What was more surprising to me was that it was difficult to remove my trainer/teacher “hat.” When a participant made a comment based on a misunderstanding of mediation, I had to resist the urge to engage in a conversation to educate the participant about mediation.

The groups of lawyers came from very different perspectives and often had different goals for mediation. (more…)

“Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act” Update

Susan M. Yates, October 17th, 2016

The Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act has been finalized by the Uniform Law Commission and the full version with commentary is now available. You can find the final version of the act and other information on it here.

If you want to learn more about the act, the American Bar Association Family Law Litigation Committee is sponsoring a telephonic “roundtable” about it on November 4, at 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm Eastern. The roundtable is free and open to anyone, including non-ABA members, but you have to register for it using the following link: https://form.jotform.com/62504543364150.

The speakers for the roundtable have all been deeply involved in the creation of the model act. They include Barbara A. Atwood, Chair of the Family Law Arbitration Drafting Committee, Uniform Law Commission; Kaitlin A. Dohse, Legislative Counsel, Uniform Law Commission; and Linda H. Elrod, Reporter for the Family Law Arbitration Drafting Committee, Uniform Law Commission.

The Uniform Law Commission describes the need for the act and its intended results as follows: “States’ laws vary when it comes to arbitrating family law matters such as spousal support, division of property, child custody, and child support. The Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act standardizes the arbitration of family law. It is based in part on the Revised Uniform Arbitration Act, though it departs from the RUAA in areas in which family law arbitration differs from commercial arbitration, such as: standards for arbitration of child custody and child support; arbitrator qualifications and powers; protections for victims of domestic violence. This Act is intended to create a comprehensive family law arbitration system for the states.”