What is the Role of the Family Mediator in Dealing with Indifference?

Paul Sandford
Paul Sandford – Civil Mediator and Tribunal Judge

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

This very insightful sentence, written by the renowned philosopher and academic, Elie Wiesel, essentially explains why so many partnerships and marriages flounder or fail.

In some instances, the split that is announced to friends comes as a surprise.  Neither they nor even the parties to the relationship themselves ever saw this coming.

After all the friends say, “neither of them of them was unfaithful and there was never any suggestion of abuse or nastiness”.

Some of these indifferent couples may get counselling or guidance but others may simply decide that enough is enough and take steps to formally terminate their relationship.

Some may end up in a room with a family mediator giving financial disclosure and discussing what arrangements should be made for their children. It may be that instead of one or either of the parties making what some would see as explicit or unrealistic demands, the mediator is confronted by a party who cannot be bothered.

An example of this would be one party not maintaining adequate levels of contact with the children of the relationship even where there is no objection to him or her doing so.

Family mediation is a voluntary as well as a flexible, confidential process that allows for the possibility of reconciliation.

In the course of separation one of the parties to a relationship, or indeed both, could decide to try and salvage the relationship. If they are in mediation their mediator will explain to them that they can either withdraw completely or else suspend the process for a fixed or even an indeterminate period. This might give them time to consider their options, possibly to try to regain what they once had and to  begin to build up trust in one another.

In these circumstances, is there a role for the mediator particularly as he or she must not adopt the mantle of counsellor or therapist?

 Role of the Family Mediator in Dealing with IndifferenceThe couple who are thinking of reconciling may either not go back to living with one another straightaway or have not yet reached the point that they feel able to discuss matters without some external input. If they decide to retain separate households, even in the short term, there may still be financial matters such as maintenance and child related issues such as contact to be resolved.

It might be that the initial split was caused by a couple’s disagreement about the best way to discipline and care for their children and they might benefit from the drawing up of a parenting plan.

Alternatively they may conceivably be in dispute about the running of a family business or the status of an extension built to accommodate a relative. One of the parties to the relationship may be in dire financial difficulty and irrespective of any wish to try and reconcile, may consider it necessary to take steps in order to protect him/herself and their children. Moreover, a couple’s therapist or counsellor may have advised that progress cannot be made until some legal issues are resolved and it well may be that skilful and timely input from a mediator saves the day.

In such cases, the family mediator has a vital role to play. He or she will very possibly change emphasis and no longer specifically use terms such as “divorce” or “clean break,” but the process of a mediator helping to facilitate an agreement may still be required.

What if it really is too late for a reconciliation and one or both parties simply decides that there is no point in considering reconciliation and opt to forge ahead?

In such circumstances, if the parties decide that that is what they want, the mediator may simply carry on with “plan A” and in the fullness of time a mutually acceptable settlement may be reached.

In the face of indifference from one or both parties part of the role of the family mediator is to accentuate the positives so as to help them to communicate better. In so doing the mediator will be able to help a couple to foster an improved level of trust that will enable them to reach an agreement and to behave towards each other in a more civilised manner.

Without this input which family mediators routinely provide and which helps disputing parties to overcome indifference in addition to  enmity or dislike, any negotiations or discussions may fail. If so there may be less likelihood of a divorced or separated couple communicating effectively with one another, perhaps for years to come.

About the Author

Paul Sandford ( http://www.albertsquaremediation.co.uk/ ) is an accredited civil mediator and Tribunal Judge. He is also an associate of a Birmingham-based firm of solicitors, My Business Counsel.

He mediates for a leading UK charity and has the benefit of having worked as a solicitor for around 25 years.  He has also worked as a trainer and university lecturer and has considerable experience of working with people who are disabled or who do not have English as a first language.

As well as being Regents University accredited, Paul recently completed ADRg civil/commercial and family training .

He has particular  knowledge and experience of housing, property/commercial, medical and public law issues and employment, workplace, family and educational disputes. He is a member of two mediation panels: Clerksroom, which has excellent conference call facilities, and the Business Mediation Group. In his spare time Paul enjoys cooking, football, test cricket and listening to the blues, and fundraises for his school.

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