Family feuds are a phenomenon in today’s society. Often, they stem from unresolved or unhealed past traumas and interpersonal tensions that replay themselves, and as such, spill over into the family. It gets even worse when family members are unable to resolve and process conflicts healthily and positively, which results in a fallout between the affected individuals.
These conflicts can be so intense that they lead to a breakup, divorce, child custody dispute, physical violence, and homicide. For instance, statistical analysis of data shows that 36.6% of marriages in the U.S. end up in divorce. Similarly, the number of domestic abuse crimes committed annually in England and Wales is on the rise, with the last recorded figure being a little above 845,000.
Given the prevalence of family feuds and the detrimental effects they have on society, it is incumbent on affected family members to consider effective dispute resolution processes. In this regard, family mediation is a deployable option.
What is Family Mediation?
Family mediation is a process that allows families to resolve disputes with the help of a third party. This third party is a mediator, who helps the family members communicate and negotiate among themselves to find a solution that works for everyone. Family mediation helps to resolve all types of disputes, including:
- Custody and visitation disputes
- Property disputes
- Inheritance disputes
- Financial disputes
- Business disputes
- Elder care disputes
The disputes aren’t confined to spouses; they can happen between parents and children, cousins and nephews, and even members of the same category — for example, siblings. While mediation is beneficial to affected family members, the process can be terrifying, even when an experienced mediator is present.
However, it isn’t new. In fact, people have used this conciliation technique for ages. The only difference is that present-day mediators are mostly considered professionals in the field.
When is Family Mediation Requested?
Almost any time family relationships are in turmoil, mediation can be requested, especially when members wish to settle disputes outside of the court. Such individuals can come to an agreement without the judge’s intervention and afterwards, enforce decisions on their own. While the most common time is during and after a separation or divorce, affected individuals can use mediation to deal with conflicts that arise due to:
- Youth violence
- Property division
- Alimony and support payments
- Parenting time
- Estate planning
- Debt or credit counselling
Aside from being proven to be a successful alternative to a court settlement, mediation saves time and money. It also gives the parties control over the situation and helps them maintain a good relationship.
How Mediation Works
During mediation, the parties will meet with a neutral mediator who will help them to communicate and negotiate their settlement. The mediator will not make any decisions for the parties, but will instead help them to come to an agreement that works for them. If the parties are unable to settle through mediation, they may have to go to court to resolve the issue.
Underneath the surface, a mediator guides family members to:
- Identify causative factors to resolve
- Prioritize the issues and address them in order
- Proffer plausible solutions
- Draft an agreement on such solutions
- Review and follow up on the agreement
Are Mediators Legal Advisors?
No, mediators are not legal advisors. Their role is to help families identify and resolve issues, not to provide legal advice, which entails interpreting statutes and recommending legal actions in favour of one party. Some of these professionals have legal backgrounds, which means that they can provide information about court proceedings and state laws, but that’s just how far they can go.
What Happens in the Case of Domestic Violence?
To avoid conflicts due to domestic violence, it’s an excellent idea to find a mediator with experience in such issues. A mediator can help the parties by:
- Diffusing the situation
- Providing a safe place for the parties to talk
- Helping to identify and understand the issues in place
- Helping to create a plan to resolve the case
- Helping to monitor the progress of the case
If a mediator is not suitable for the dispute, a family member can refer to an attorney for professional help. Domestic violence is not one to be handled lightly, as it can cause lasting damage to the affected individuals. Cases of assault, manslaughter, and murder are not unheard of when family feuds escalate, which is why seeking professional help is a must.
When to Mediate and When to Litigate
The decision to see a mediator or an attorney depends on both parties, the situation, and how much they are willing to put into resolving the dispute. When family members don’t have access to much money, they may have to resort to mediation. It also applies to those who simply want to save their relationships.
On the other hand, when they are wealthy, they may want to fight for their rights through a court trial. This approach may be more effective for parties with conflicting views that have remained unresolved after mediation. It’s also worth mentioning that while mediation should be one of the options offered for cases of domestic violence, it shouldn’t be the first or only recourse.
In some cases, victims of domestic abuse are advised not to negotiate or mediate with their abusers, especially after several failed attempts. This is because such recurring behaviours can be psychologically damaging to the victim, and should be treated as a threat. Often, they show no sign of change, thus making a relationship between the abuser and victim untenable.
Such victims are advised to seek domestic violence counselling and support. They should also secure their safety. In extreme cases, they can file a lawsuit.
How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Mediator?
Mediation is an affordable alternative to litigation and its cost depends on the mediator’s expertise, location, and the type of mediation services required. Generally, though, most mediators charge between $100 and $300 per hour.
Family feuds affect thousands of families every year, causing irreparable damage to family ties. While mediation is not a magic bullet for success, it helps to mitigate these conflicts and their effects. This is particularly true when parties have committed to resolving their differences.