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Where is the Neutrality in Mediation?

October 4, 2014

People attend mediation to resolve conflict and herein I am addressing mediation to resolve parenting disputes specifically – the care of children between separated parents..

I differentiate between issues and outcomes with regard to neutrality.

On the matter of issues, it may be difficult to remain neutral and may not be appropriate to remain neutral. Domestic violence, conflict, drug/alcohol abuse are known to be harmful and often puts one person at risk of harm over the other and at times, even at the hand of the other. Neutrality in the face of these and other issues may equal complicity or tacit acceptance. This really isn’t neutral or safe.

From an evaluative standpoint, it is reasonable to point out the inherent contribution to distress these issues impose in order to promote wellness (social, emotional, physical and even spiritual) and offer guidance to address those issues that otherwise drive conflict. Further and in consideration of “do no harm”, it behooves the mediator to address these issues as mentioned above for to not address them is tantamount to complicity and/or tacit acceptance, maintaining people at risk of harm. This is far from neutral as it inadvertently reinforces dysfunctional to unlawful to dangerous behavior.

However, we still respect self-determination and remain neutral with regard to the outcome. People can still decide for themselves – good or bad. In the end, it is their life – assuming the behavior in question is not a required reportable offense.

Mediation is more than compromise and I see it as having loftier general goals.

We seek the parties subject to mediation to  learn to resolve disputes respectfully as well as address those conditions within themselves that may contribute to ongoing harm and/or conflict. This creates more durable, lasting agreements.

In the area of family mediation where children’s lives hang in the outcome, remaining neutral with regard to outcome can be a daunting task. As family mediators, the well-being of children is top-of-mind particularly when conflict can fog the parental view of children’s needs. Outcome though, still remains a parental prerogative.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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  1. Gary, you are talented at using very few words but making extremely huge impact. There are many useful points here.

  2. Karien permalink

    I fully agree with Gary. Mediation is a process where the outcomes should be in the best interest of the children and parents act as reasonable adults. The person paying the bill is not the party whose interest / wishes is the rule.

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