The Family Mediation Centre in Noble Park Victoria Australia was a pioneer in this form of conflict resolution in the Commonwealth of Australia. It was established as a pilot project by the Federal Attorney General’s Dept in 1985 and has since proved an outstanding success.

We work to a well-established model of mediation which has proved extremely successful, We outline it here in order that other providers can compare and comment. Although it “works for us” we are interested to discover how our methods differ from those of other providers of Conflict Resolution. Acting on the wise precept “If it works, DON’T fix it” we are still interested in how your system works for you, especially in overseas countries with different ethnic backgrounds. Australia is fast becoming a truly multicultural society.

Our process begins with the Intake procedure. Clients approaching the Centre are interviewed and assessed by skilled full-time workers. This is divided into Adult Family Mediation, couples separating, separated or reconciling; and Parent/Adolescent mediation.

The intake workers interview the clients singly and together. They assess the appropriateness of mediation in the particular circumstances and write up case notes for briefing the mediators.

The mediators work in pairs; male and female in the case of couples; young, and dare I say it, older, in parent/adolescent disputes. What follows describes the “PROCESS” – our guide and gospel!

Twenty to thirty minutes before the scheduled mediation the two mediators arrive at the centre to be briefed, in person or by recorded tape. They discuss the case, confess to their personal concerns, if any, and decide on their roles – Mediator One or Mediator Two. Each has a clearly defined role. The decision as to who does what depends on several factors; the personal preference of the mediators sometimes, but, more often, their perception of the advantages of a particular role in compensating a power imbalance between the parties.

The preliminaries over, the mediators greet the clients and take them to the mediation room. There the PROCESS starts.

Mediator One begins, outlining the four basic precepts of the mediation process: The Voluntary nature of the mediation; The Confidentiality; The Neutrality of the mediators; and the Role that the mediators fulfil.

Mediator Two then takes over, explaining the steps to be followed, checking that the rules of respect and non-interruption will be observed.

In addition, the clients are advised of the option of “A Private Session”. This can be called for by any of the parties (including the Mediators). It is comparatively rare and is employed if an impasse is reached during the negotiation phase.

In the first stage the clients, party one and party two, are asked to agree as to who shall begin. The clients are invited in turn to state their reasons for seeking mediation and to explain what they hope to achieve in their mediation session.

While the first party, guided and encouraged by Mediator One, explains their position, Mediator two writes an accurate account in the clients own words. Mediator One employs many skills to elicit an accurate account and ensures that the feelings of the party are fully expressed. It is the task of Mediator One also to discourage interruptions by the other party. To this end paper and pencil have been provided in order that notes can be made for future reference.

When each of the parties has made a statement, Mediator Two reads them back, asking for amendments or additions. During this time Mediator One notes down the KEY ISSUES which will provide the basis for THE NEGOTIATION STAGE.

Ml and M2 then quite openly discuss whether the issues are appropriate and then invite the comments of the parties. On obtaining their agreement the mediators ask the parties to order the issues and ask them to enter into the negotiation stage. A whiteboard may be used to list the issues. In the negotiation stage, a qualitative change takes place. Up to now, the parties have been talking to the mediators. From this point on the parties talk to each other.

The mediators intervene where necessary to facilitate understanding; questioning to ensure that each party really understands the other. It is here that the mediators experience their greatest challenge. The mediators are NOT counsellors. They are not allowed to propose solutions to the problems. However, if they feel that the parties are approaching an agreement, they can, by skilful questioning, draw their attention to the points they have in common. Agreements can be either written or verbal. In the former case, the mediators write it down in the words of the client and check its accuracy. With their agreement, a written copy is sent to each party by mail marked confidential. In the latter brief notes are written to be entered in the file.

However, agreements must be tested for “livability”. Before the mediators will accept an agreement they must first ensure that the proposals will actually work. For the mediators, this is a particularly difficult time. Despite the temptation to accept the agreement as a solution to the problem, they cannot accept a solution that has not been tested. They begin to ask “What if?” questions.

When the mediators have determined that all the agreements are viable and accurately recorded they end the proceedings with an offer of future mediation if required. The centre also offers Legal/Financial counselling.

Although many disputes prove irreconcilable, success is measured by the degree to which the mediation process abides by the process. Often the mediators observe, even in apparently unsuccessful cases, that the parties have made positive progress in accepting the realities of their situation and are thus better equipped to deal with their problems in the future.

We would welcome observations and discussions, especially those portraying a different model of mediation and dispute resolution. If you think your model is more successful please let us know why, but we warn you we will take a lot of convincing!

Sincerely PEG:FMC (Harry Beechey) 1991