October 1, 2012
Written by Staff at The Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution
The majority of people who think about mediation paint the scope of the subject matter in broad strokes. They see a multitude of issues to be dealt with under a general rubric such as divorce mediation or elder mediation or even something more global such as labor conflicts or even Middle East peace talks. Yet to conceptualize mediation only in its broadest terms is to underestimate the agility and potential of the process to deal with narrowly defined issues as well as those which are multi faceted.
This article is intended to raise people’s consciousness and awareness as to the power of mediation to handle single issues. At present the majority of single- issue mediations result from referrals made by professionals who recognize that a particular dispute or issue would be more efficiently handled in the mediation setting. Also, growth in this area is gradually accelerating as individuals who, in learning about mediation, determine that a dispute, an issue, or a problem to be solved in their own lives, would save time and money if dealt with in a mediation setting. We present the following examples from our own mediation practice, although this is by no means a comprehensive listing of the breathe and scopeof problems which qualify for settlement in mediation.
Single Issues Related to Divorce Mediation:
Lawyers have long been referring their clients to mediation to deal with custody disputes. Here the couple enters mediation solely to resolve issues pertaining to parenting their children. Yet a dispute does not have to exist for mediation to be a good choice in the custodial arena. For example, it is becoming increasing more common to see couples referred or self-referring themselves to mediation in order to devise a parenting plan. The process is more efficient, in and of itself, in helping parents to consider how they can interact in raising their children. now and in the future. Indeed the very fact that the couple works together to create a plan is a step toward working together in the future, in co-parenting. The mediator’s focus is on facilitating agreements that enshrine the notion and the practice of each child’s rights to have two parents in their lives, hopefully two parents who are able and committed to cooperating and even collaborating with each other as parents.
Single issue mediation is also most appropriate for dealing with education -based issues, such as postsecondary education funding, selection of schools, level of each parent’s financial commitment, and perhaps the children’s responsibilities to funding, as well as their role as students (e.g., full time attendance, grade point average). In reality any issue or subject or a component of one can be the main focus of a single issue mediation, including, but not limited to, property issues such as the fate of the marital home or division of retirement funds or tax-based issues, to mention a few examples.
Post divorce issues are the most common form of divorce-related single-issue mediations. Here couples enter mediation to reach agreements on modifications of their degrees in just about any area that is modifiable (e.g., support, educational funding, health insurance provisions, custodial arrangements and child-related issues, insurance coverage and testamentary clauses). For couples that have not mediated their divorce, mediation often presents a welcome surprise. Face-to-face meetings in a confidential setting, where individuals can explore the components of the problem they wish to resolve, is appreciated for its efficiency of time and cost, not to mention the satisfaction of being able to express ideas without fear of recrimination and the comfort of having a skilled professional help in the problem solving process with guidance and suggestions.
If a couple has been referred to mediation to resolve a single issue, they will return to the professional(s) with whom they are working after the settlement of the dispute or completion of the subject to be mediated (e.g., parenting plan). At times both processes continue simultaneously since they are dealing with different components of a larger settlement. The decision on how to compartmentalize the two processes is up to the individuals involved or structured by the referring professional(s).
Other Single Issue Family-Related Mediations:
Mediations that deal with how to divide personal possessions as part of cases dealing with will conflicts
Mediations dealing with the care of an elderly relative, involving the division of responsibilities and care
Parent-child conflicts dealing with financial obligations and /or household roles and responsibilities
Role obligations and responsibilities in family-owned businesses
Purchase of property by unmarried couples
In reality the list is endless. A willingness to hear and be heard, an openness to resolving differences by creative problem solving and, most of all, a commitment to reaching an agreement are the major requirements for entering mediation.
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