01 February 2019

My experience as a family mediator


Suzanne Todd
Partner | UK

Last week was National Mediation Week. This gave me an opportunity to reflect on my experiences as a mediator and practising Collaborative Lawyer.

I am fortunate to be able to help individuals resolve matters outside the Court framework in a way that works for their individual family situation and may often include the odd curve ball, which is finding a solution that a Court would not necessarily even consider.

The usual issues I mediate for couples include cutting up the cake on divorce and dealing with the arrangements for children. However, even before that point, agreeing the actual particulars of a divorce petition in a safe and secure environment can start off a couple on a sensible journey to settlement, rather than dealing with the angst which often arises if this delicate area is not handled sensitively by solicitors.

My role as a mediator is to listen (actively) to the couple, diffuse their often ‘high tower’ of emotions by soaking up their feelings (as they are directed at me rather than at each other) and then acknowledging and understanding the concerns that they are articulating, repackaging what they are saying in a way that enables them both to move forwards.

When there are children involved I find it extremely helpful to keep the children ‘in the room’ with us and always circle back to what the children would want their parents to be doing in any particular scenario.

Anyone who has mediated with me will know that I love my flipchart. This is a useful tool to ensure that everyone in the room can visualise, for example, the net effect of a capital or income proposal which has often not been given proper consideration. Seeing it in black and white (or in red and green) helps each party to understand the impact and parameters of the potential deal.

With a strong Italian theme running through my career, I and Harriet Barber (one of our associate solicitors) have also conducted a mediation in Italian. This enabled the couple to communicate comfortably in their mother-tongue and I was able to interpret and then converse in English. Significant progress was made in the case which had been at a stalemate up until that point. As those who mediate know, mediating can be exhausting, as you are required to adopt a completely different professional persona. Mediating in a foreign language takes this to a whole new level.

Mediation is not a route for everyone. It is obviously not for the faint hearted as it takes great courage to articulate how one is feeling directly to one’s partner in the presence of a third party, with a view to reaching a mutually acceptable outcome, but when it works, it works extremely well.

Category: Article