Selma- When couples are facing the end of a relationship, the first thought is to contact a lawyer, however there is another rather unknown option that can help smooth the way before the lawyer involvement. Sometimes lawyers recommend mediation first.
Mediation is a practice where an impartial third party helps two or more individuals who are in a conflict or dispute come to an amicable agreement. Needs are first identified, the issues are made clear, options to resolve the issues explored and a feasible agreement reached when possible. Mediators can work with families on parenting issues, spousal or child support, division of assets and property, or even elder care. Mediation is also useful for work place disputes.
Last winter Keith Wallis of Selma purchased the company Mirkwood Mediation Services from his mentor Mary Thompson who started the business over 13 years ago. He came to this with a BA in International Affairs from Sir George William University in Montreal, a program designed to train candidates for Canada’s diplomatic corps. He was in industrial sales for a significant part of his working life and found himself doing mediating between the demands of the numerous parties involved in major projects. When the business began to dry up a few years ago, he looked to another career and proceeded to take courses on mediation and family law at St. Mary’s and Mount Saint Vincent Universities
Along with the courses, he mentored with Mrs. Thompson for a year and a half, sitting in on dozens of mediation sessions and seeing how the process worked, then conducting the sessions himself while she observed.
A mediator is trained to open up lines of communication between the parties, and may have to deal with all types of issues and a wide variety of personalities. Often the communication is strained and emotionally charged, and may be weighed down by worry and resentment making agreement difficult. The mediator keeps the focus on issues at hand and helps the participants to look beyond past history and to explore all options that will resolve the conflict.
“What I try to give are reality checks, says Wallis, “I will say here is the issue, what are the different options, what do you see happening.”
Wallis says it is all about the approach take to resolving the conflict. He used an example from one of his classes to explain how situations can be the same, but the solutions vastly different, depending on the process used. Comparing arbitration to mediation, he gave an example of a situation where a company has two people wanting the one remaining parking space left in a sheltered heated garage, with the only other space in an open air lot several blocks away down the hill from the building. How do you decide who gets the good spot?
In the arbitration exercise, each person had to give their reasons why they should be given the space and everyone came up with really good excuses but it became an ‘all about me’ situation with hard feelings all around, and no one wanting to give anything away. In the mediation exercise the two employees were asked to resolve the issue co-operatively and look at all options and solutions. The result, a solution was found in which both spaces would be shared, but that was only discovered when people took the time to talk it over. The key was that they began to see the problem as the adversary rather than the other person.
Through mediation, a full agreement can be reached on all types of issues, but even a partial agreement can be better than none, reducing the number of issues being left for a court to decide. Mediation can address the specific needs and desires of participants, allowing for trade offs so that each party can get what is most important for them. The agreement, known as a Memorandum of Understanding, is drafted by the mediator based on the decisions of the participants. As an independent mediator can not provide legal advice, the clients are then advised to have the Memorandum reviewed by their lawyers before signing the document. Generally, once done, the courts will accept these agreements as written and will include them as part of a court order, or even a divorce proclamation. This means, in effect, that the participants have written their own law.
Wallis has seen an increase in the use of mediation in the last year, with clients coming either before or after seeking the advice or services of a lawyer, and some of the clients may have been referred to mediation by their lawyers. Mediation can significantly reduce the costs normally associated with resolving issues in the court system. In some cases, clients never see a lawyer. However in other cases, a lawyer is the next step but by then the parties involved have a better idea of what they are looking for
Mediators help the parties involved see both sides of an argument. Sometimes it can go quickly, while at other times it can take time to work through. Wallis says that according to Health Canada, the average cost of a contested divorce in Canada is $60,000.00. Mediation can often resolve the key issues before they become contested and reduce the cost to a small fraction of that amount.
A recent press release from Family Mediation Canada supports Wallis’ statement adding, “Family mediation can dramatically reduce the human and financial cost of conflict by promoting and facilitating a process that reduces antagonism and enhances cooperation. Mediation provides people with tools to solve their own problems and allows families to maintain more control over their lives by giving them opportunities to create flexible arrangements that suit their family’s unique circumstances.”
There are close to 60 mediators in various areas of the province. Family Mediation Nova Scotia (FMNS) and FMC are non-profit organizations committed to promoting the use of mediation and directing people to mediation services available for families, here in Nova Scotia and across Canada, and to ensuring a certain standard of practice.
February 1 has been designated as Family Mediation Day by FMS. The purpose is to raise public awareness about the mediation process and the benefits for families. It will highlight the importance of and the useful contribution family mediation makes in collaborative resolution in Canada.
To learn more about mediation you can visit the FMNS website at nsfamilymediation.ca, FMC at fmc.ca or Mirkwood Mediation Services at mirkwoodmediation.com.