Frustrations of a Family Mediator
1. I cannot fix everything for everybody. People have the personalities, anxieties, hostilities, and blind spots that they have, and I cannot always get them to think and speak from the best parts of themselves and cooperate to do what will be good for their kids.
2. I am not allowed to give legal advice. It may not be OK for me to say to two parents before their first-ever court hearing that the hearing will probably be very short and that the judge will probably issue a temporary order that gives the parents joint legal custody, gives the mother sole physical custody, and gives the father visitation rights. When the parents have only one child and she is a very young, breast-feeding baby, that is what usually happens, but the parents are supposed to hear it from attorneys, not from me. Someone might think that it crosses the line between information (which a mediator can give) and legal advice (which a mediator is not allowed to give)
3. I am not allowed to take sides. When, after four or five sessions of appearing to be working out the details of a complicated but fair separation agreement, and after one parent has taken financial risks based on the other parent’s unsigned promises, one parent suddenly says that he or she wants an entirely different plan, I am not allowed to cry “Foul!” I am not allowed to refer the injured parent to a fierce and effective attorney. If there is reason to hope that, with continued mediation, the parents will return to working out a fair and good agreement, I can keep working with them, but I must be very careful not to let my sympathy for one parent bias my efforts to help the two of them decide what they think is best to do. My job is to manage the process, not to control the outcome. Respect for the parties’ right to determine the outcome is a cornerstone of mediation.
Despite these frustrations, I usually love doing my work. Much more often than not, it is possible for me to help clients. Sometimes I can help them decide together about everything they need to resolve: parenting plans, financial support, and who gets which property and which debts. Sometimes I can help two parents work out a schedule for kids to get to spend time with the non-custodial parent even when a protective order prohibits him or her from coming near the other parent. Sometimes I can help parents agree about whom the kids will live with and when they will see the other parent even if I cannot get them to agree about legal custody (decision-making). Sometimes the parents do not walk away with a written agreement, but they both understand each other better and are closer to being able to cooperate, because I have helped them to LISTEN to each other. In all such cases, kids benefit from reduced hostility and reduced uncertainty in their lives. Parents benefit from reduced stress levels. Some degree of healing or beginning to heal happens.
So yes, the job has its frustrations, but I love my job.
About the Author
Virginia L. Colin, Ph.D., is a Professional Family Mediator Certified by the Supreme Court of Virginia. She is a founding member of the Academy of Professional Family Mediators. She travels throughout Northern Virginia to provide family mediation services, and she is also available to work with clients elsewhere in Virginia and in other states by Skype, phone, and email.
Click the button below to visit Virginia’s website, Colin Family Mediation.