National Family Mediation and the Hybrid Mediator

National Family Mediation helps families in conflict, especially those divorcing or separating. They offer expert, professional family mediation services that are quicker and cheaper than going to court. They can also help with arrangements over children, finances and property. Their service reduces conflict and keeps you in control of your decisions.

The Family Mediation Act of 2014 placed a requirement on courts to refer any family dispute to mediation and it has been reported that, in 2015-16, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) sent more cases for mediation than ever before. Despite this increased demand, the current system of family mediation in England and Wales is not operating as effectively as it could be. A crucial barrier to the effectiveness of family mediation is the tensions that have emerged between mediator sub-groups.

Since the introduction of family mediation, research and commentary have categorised mediators into two distinct groups: those who are lawyers and those who are not. This dichotomy has resulted in mediator turf battles, whereby each group attempts to promote their own disciplinary expertise over that of the other. This polarisation is exacerbated by the fact that, with the onset of LASPO, legal aid funding for family mediation has been cut, creating a greater incentive for mediators to focus on their own professional background and the work they are currently doing.

In the context of these developments, it is necessary to consider whether a third mediator sub-group is emerging; the hybrid mediator. This research aims to investigate the identity of this new mediator, and its potential for uniting the profession.

The methodology for the study is a mixed method, naturalistic longitudinal design with participants recruited from nine family mediation centres across metropolitan, outer suburban and regional/rural sites in Victoria, Australia. Data collection is via self-administered surveys at pre-test, after mediation and six months later. Key outcome measures include changes in acrimony and levels of violence, the durability of mediated agreements over time, and client satisfaction with family mediation.

The results of the study will be used to inform a discussion paper for publication. It will address the question of how a hybrid sub-group of family mediators can be harnessed to support the effectiveness of the current family mediation system and, ultimately, help the MoJ achieve its target of increasing the use of family mediation in order to free up judicial resources for the most complex cases. In addition, the research will provide a platform for further discussion of the role and place of family mediation in contemporary England and Wales. In particular, it will explore the impact of a hybrid mediator on the identity and future of the family mediation profession. This will involve considering how the different types of mediator are viewed by their clients, and how these views may be influenced by the emergence of the hybrid sub-group. The findings of this research will be critical in determining the future of family mediation in England and Wales.

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