Each year at the Centre for Mediation and Dispute Resolution we look back at our client population seeking to uncover patterns, changes, and even trends. 2022 was noteworthy as the year in which we re-opened our doors to in-person mediation. Yet despite the return to in-person mediation, many new clients elected video conferencing as the medium of choice. Remote sessions presented an enticing convenience; freed from the demands of travel, clients opted to save the time and money expended on babysitters and gas. Others preferred not having to sit in the same room with those participating in the process. And, then too, some clients chose a hybrid approach: in-person for some sessions and remote for others. Without a doubt remote mediation is here to stay, offering an alternative to the traditional in-person format, an opportunity to mediate despite restrictions traditionally imposed by time and distance. In retrospect the mediation horizon has expanded: an increased number of individuals have become knowledgeable about the process, a process facilitated by convenient and varied accessibility.
In 2022, we observed the following trends:
From Our Separating, Divorcing, and Divorced Clients:
An increased number of unmarried couples, some of whom have been together for many years, electing to mediate terms for child support and custody to govern their decision to live apart;
An increased number of couples in their sixties and seventies deciding to divorce;
An increased number of couples, influenced by high mortgage interest rates, deciding to retain joint ownership of real estate in order to keep their low interest rate;
An increased number of couples deferring payments of cash settlements in order to avoid one party having to liquidate assets devalued by stock market volatility;
An increased number of individuals deciding to rent, rather than purchase real estate, as a result of increased housing prices and rising mortgage interest rates;
An increased number of couples that mediated prenuptials and post-nuptial agreements;
An increased number of couples electing to live together after divorce;
An increased number of couples having to revise their mediated divorce agreements due to not having filed their agreement for years after it was drafted; and
An increased number of couples, who did not mediate their divorce agreements, electing to mediate post divorce issues.
In summary, the economic impact of high inflation, federal intervention strategies raising interest rates on borrowing funds, the continued high price of real estate in Massachusetts, and stock market volatility, not to mention the underlying presence of Covid complicated by the advance of respiratory illnesses, has been the underlying impetus for couples to be more adventurous in devising novel approaches to their agreements. Then, too, the problem-solving process of mediation provided a format for creative analysis of the problems at hand, thereby encouraging couples to consider the immediate and long-term implications of agreement terms on all family members.
From Our Family Mediation Clients:
An increased number of family mediations centering on rifts between adult siblings and parents;
An increased number of family mediations focused on clashes of parents and adult children involving relationships with grandchildren;
An increased number of disputes over sibling differences in handling inherited real estate;
An increased number of adult children trying to resolve sibling disagreements related to the oversight of aging parents;
An increased number of disputes among family members who own and operate a family business.
In summary, family tensions are not new. Unresolved childhood conflicts continue to simmer below the surface, at times boiling over, when an aging parent needs help or dies or an estate plan raises questions of fairness. The reasons underlying dissension among family members are almost limitless. Mediation provides a means to communicate feelings in a safe and confidential environment. Given the emphasis on collaborative problem solving, the mediator’s job is to help family members to appreciate the value of familial relationships at the same time that a solution is sought that seems fair and workable to all participants.
From Our Business Clients:
An increased number of business partners trying to re-invent their business model due to the impact of the Pandemic;
An increased number of business partners considering retirement in a business without an exit plan;
An increased number of business partners who are struggling with defining each party’s role in the operation and management of the business;
An increased number of business owners disputing compensation packages, both as it pertains to themselves and to their employees;
An increased number of business partners trying to work through divorce and their ownership of the family’s business.
In summary, the creation of a business, even one with a sound business plan, does not always incorporate provisions for change. Businesses, like individuals, need to be open to adaptation over time, to evolve as circumstances and people change. Mediation offers a constructive vehicle for individuals to express their own needs in the context of the business and to design and evaluate strategies for resolution, even if resolution leads to an exit plan or change in the business’ model or its operation.
Whether in-person or remote, mediation offers all participants the opportunity to express their needs, concerns, and priorities in a safe and confidential environment. Collaboration is the hallmark of mediation, a process built on each party’s openness to listening to each other and to working together to resolve old issues and prevent new ones from developing. With the facilitation of a skilled and knowledgeable mediator, the end result should be fair and workable for all involved parties.