Janet Walker, Peter McCarthy and Noel Timms (1994)Relate Centre for Family Studies / Newcastle University. ISBN 1 899232 03 6. £9.95 . A4 format paperback.
Thomas Lindstein and Barry Meteyard (1996)
Russell House Publishing. ISBN 1 898924 - 85 - 6. £12.95. Paperback.
Joan B Kelly (1996)Family and Conciliation Courts Review Vol 34. No 3, July. p373-385
The Newcastle study was based on evidence from five mediation services; Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Coventry and Newcastle upon Tyne. The research carried out from 1990 - 1993 attempted to evaluate comprehensive mediation, that is mediation concerned with financial matters as well as the children. The key findings were that 80 % of couples reached some agreement (39% on all issues and 41% on some issues). Comprehensive mediation was found to have had beneficial effects beyond the practical agreements reached; communication between couples improved and bitterness and tension were reduced. Couples chose to mediate divorce settlements primarily because they were seeking a civilised amicable and cooperative process. The research also reported that comprehensive mediation was not found to be an easy option. Making it work took time from the couples concerned and the mediators. Those using comprehensive mediation regarded it as a cost effective alternative to the traditional legal process; but the cost of providing mediation was found to vary between services and was heavily subsidised by practitioners working for low rates of pay.
'What works in Family Mediation' offers detailed accounts of mediation interventions which worked and which failed. It also provides a number of models of best practice. Central to the book is the experience of family mediation in Sweden where it has been available for over ten years. The examples of mediation practice provided show how mediation should be organised and the authors hold that the personal characteristics of the mediators are all important. For example it's suggested that the best results are often achieved if the mediation team consists of a man and a woman. This book echoes the Newcastle research in showing that the work of mediation can be extremely demanding on the mediators. Theories of mediation are evaluated and the authors discuss likely developments in Britain as the 1996 Family Law Act comes into effect.
Joan Kelly's recent article in Family and Conciliation Courts Review looks at the existing research on divorce mediation. The kinds of issues that have been studied are; settlement rates, cost effectiveness of mediation as opposed to other forms of conflict resolution, client satisfaction, effect on levels of conflict and cooperation and psychological adjustment of the parties. In spite of the usual methodological problems that limit generalisation the result of the research seems to be generally supportive and favourable.
Anyone who has battled through the courts and seen the legal process at work must surely welcome the new emphasis on mediated settlements. There are however a number of important criticism of mediation. The legal model with its emphasis on due process and an adversarial approach is justifiably criticised not least because of the perverse incentive within this model to prevent agreement from being reached. Some argue that there may be dangers in substituting a model based on a social science paradigm where due process is replaced by discretion and a welfare ideology. Feminists have also opposed an extension of mediation, their argument is that as women are subordinate and relatively powerless in the wider society they Will be disadvantaged by mediation. Many fathers have presented a similar argument from an opposite position. Their argument is that whilst the whole judicial / welfare edifice is so pro mother and anti father the injustices that fathers experience in the courts will only be continued in mediated settlements.
As we get closer to the 1999 implementation of the Family Law Act it seems certain that there will be more and more reliance on mediation. Of course any alternative to the courts is to be welcomed. Perhaps a word of caution should be sounded and that is this; unless there is a culture change which revalues the contribution that fathers make to their children and until the whole issue of shared residence is rethought much of the optimism currently surrounding mediation will be sadly misplaced.
Arthur Baker, June 1997