The emergence of national family mediation marked a significant turning point in the way we manage divorce and separation. Its founders saw from their own experience that going to court for a legal battle over children, finances and property can be expensive, long-winded and confrontational – not to mention the bitterness that simmers on for years.
They wanted to change this, and they succeeded. In 1996, the government passed the Family Law Act enabling family mediators to offer legal aid, making it possible for anyone thinking about divorce to try mediation as an alternative option. Since then, NFM has seen many waves of change. We pioneered family group mediation in the 1990s, which allows parents to stay close together after separation by resolving issues through open discussion and negotiation. We’ve also helped to develop parenting plans and to ensure that children have a voice in the process. In the wake of The Family Justice Review we’ve played a major role in ensuring that family mediation is more accessible than ever, and that it’s available for those on lower incomes.
Yet, despite these achievements, the landscape for family mediation is not without its challenges. NFM’s own research reveals that the profession remains divided, and we find that there is still an absence of a clear sense of national identity for family mediators. This is underpinned by a strong construct of tensions between professional sub-groups.
Interviews with family mediators have been undertaken to explore the nature of these tensions, as well as how a lack of national identity for the profession may impact on the way it is regulated. A purposive sample was used to include family mediators from a range of professional backgrounds and varying levels of legal aid provision. Using a semi-structured questionnaire, mediators were asked to provide a range of responses to questions regarding their professional beliefs and values. The results show that, despite a desire to work together, family mediators are polarised and a lack of national identity for the profession is evident.
The research findings are alarming. They suggest that there is a high level of disengagement with the FMC from family mediators, which could potentially have serious consequences for attempts to unify the profession, encourage standard practice and promote a sense of national identity. This suggests that there is an urgent need for reform if the profession is to survive long into the post-LASPO climate. The implications for further research are discussed. Further exploration is needed into whether a hybrid model with significant training (and/or experience) in both therapeutic and lawyer mediator sub-groups could help to alleviate these tensions and reduce conflict within the family mediation community. Until then, it’s likely that the turf wars will continue.