Are Mediators Independent?
Why do we need impartial mediators?
Sometimes we need to have a third party involved in our lives. We use doctors, lawyers, teachers and plumbers to fix our problems or impart their knowledge without a thought to any preconceptions they hold. Mediators are no different.
Separation is often the most emotional and fearful time in someone’s life. The suspicion radar is set high. Mediators know this and we have experience of supporting people resolving problems and finding a better way forward in the most trying situations. There are no right or wrongs in our line of work. Often, we find our clients’ behaviour alters just by having a mediator in the room. After all most people want to look reasonable in front of other people! As trained professionals we work with separating couples to sensitively seek out an agreement and encourage empathy.
Meet Independent Mediator, Fran Bishop
Later in life and after a career in law and time as a busy mum to three teenagers, I decided to train as a mediator. This evidently means that I bring my professional and personal experience to every session, but essentially, I also bring my ability to step back and allow other values and views to be considered. As part of my training, I have co-mediated and observed many different mediators. We all have different backgrounds, styles and characters but in one thing we remain constant – we are impartial and non-judgmental. This is not just because we are nice people; it is because we are a profession that is regulated by the Family Mediation Council and as such we are obliged to abide by the Code of Practice. This code states that ‘The Mediator must at all times remain impartial as between the participants and conduct the Mediation procession a fair and even-handed way’. One of the most important principles that governs our work also ensures that we must ‘prevent manipulative, threatening or intimidating behaviour by any Participant’. Our job is to ensure balance between the parties, ask questions, offer information and guide parties in considering their options.
Challenges to our impartiality
Sometimes clients might make assumptions about us and come to a decision that we are thinking in a certain way. Be assured we have no such preconceptions! We come to every meeting with an open mind and a wealth of experience in how to keep conversations calm and productive. In our shuttle mediations (as opposed to face-to-face meetings) clients are using the mediator as a messenger, so it can sometimes feel that the mediator is not impartial, as they are hearing their ex-partner’s points of view from the mouth of the mediator. This is why we often need to remind our clients not to shoot the messenger!
Unlike lawyers, who are obliged to act in their client’s interest and work to secure the best deal, a mediator does not advise and does not act towards a ‘win’. Our role is to explore options and encourage parties to reach a decision that works for the future. In the same way that confidentiality protects the process of mediation, so impartiality requires the parties to understand that a mediator is unable to correspond separately or give an opinion. We cannot talk to a client on the phone or answer questions in emails about the case. Everything discussed in mediation is shared or the process fails. The only thing a client can speak to a mediator outside the mediation room is about the process and booking their next session!
It is important to note that if we personally know a person who wants to mediate, we are under a duty to refuse. In the same way if a mediator discovered an affiliation or felt they could not be unbiased, the mediation would be stopped. Mediators must create a safe space for both parties to contribute equally to the discussions. Any preconceptions or risk of impartiality is not permitted.
Agreement to Mediate
One of the most important tools for a mediator is our Agreement to Mediate, which we ask all clients to sign to before they commit to mediation. It helps us to explain what mediation is and gets our clients to commit to the process. We cannot do the job we have to do if our clients do not adopt some of the same principles we adhere to. We need clients to engender respect for each other, listen with patience and step back from their own situation to imagine different outcomes.
Impartiality is at the heart of seeing things from both sides. Mediation is not about winning or losing and we discourage people to see progress on these terms. It is for us to create a safe space, encourage better understanding and move things forward for the people and family members involved.
Want to known more about family mediation?
You can call Direct Mediation Services on 0113 4689593, email email@example.com or complete the form below for a free call back.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Are mediators independent?
Mediators do not take sides in discussion. They are there to provide the opportunity to have a discussion on neutral ground.
How much does an independent mediator cost?
Independent mediators cost about £120 per hour per person. For family cases, Legal Aid funding may be available for people on a low income or on specific benefits.
Do independent mediators follow a code of conduct?
If your mediator is accredited by a member organisation such as the Family Mediation Council or the Civil Mediation Council then they will be bound by a code.
What should I do if I think my mediator is not acting in an independent way?
You should ask the mediation to stop and to express your concerns directly with the mediator. Following this, if you are still not content with the response you receive, you may wish to speak to the manager of the practice or their member organisation.
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