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What is "Family Mediation" and how will it work for you?

I recently (ok, so two month's ago is not that recently) participated in a Lunch 'n Learn webinar about Family Mediation in Saskatchewan (side note: did you know that January is "divorce month"? Couples file for divorce in January more than any other month. Why? Mostly because they don't want to ruin Christmas, and maybe they received extra cash in their stockings, so they have the money to file for divorce. Anyway, moving on...). But, In Saskatchewan as of July 1, 2022, before any couple can settle the divorce process, they must demonstrate that they have engaged in mediation . How come? It may have to do with the current system being terribly under resourced, but they say it is to make the process more efficient, by instead trying to have the couple come to an agreement concerning parenting time, child maintenance (child support) and promotes better communication and problem solving skills for conflicts in the future. Sounds like a good way to bring down the number of complex divorces that are creating backlog in the system, right? Yes!...and also, no. How so? Well...

I've heard from many couples since the legislation dropped that mandated mediation is an unnecessary, inconvenient and costly (because, remember, if both parties have agreed that an impasse has been reached, then both parties will have to retain a lawyer to address the ugly stuff, i.e. section 7 expenses, #IYKYK) step that may not bring clients closer to a separation agreement.

There are often 3 types of couples that seek out divorce. The first is the couple that does not seek to reconcile or resolve any issues. Both parties want what they want and have no interest in giving in, even half way, to the other partner/parent and will remain insistent on their positions until the bitter end.

How does mandatory mediation help this couple? Well, it doesn't, really.

They go through the motions and share their positions with their mediator, both as a group together and separately during their intake interview, they share the feelings driving their unmet needs and clarify their goals and non-negotiables and perhaps even empathize with the other person, but the process stops short at the phase which involves collaborative and creative problem solving. Simply due to unresolved anger, neither want the other person to leave satisfied. While legislated mediation is intended to find middle ground in order to move forward with court proceedings, for this couple it may leave them feeling frustrated that they didn't anywhere (even though they get to choose their own outcome). Indeed, the term "mandatory mediation" is somewhat of an oxymoron, as mediation is a voluntary, mutual and collaborative process. Therefore legislated mediation as a requirement of accessing the courts defies the spirit of mediation and any Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process.

The second type of separating couple that I have encountered with respect to accessing the courts is when there is one partner who is willing to co-operate in the interest of settling matters and protecting their children's interests while the other partner digs into to their positions and doesn't budge. The cooperative partner often leaves sessions feeling frustrated, defeated, fatigued and discouraged because they are often compromising on their needs just so an agreement can be reached and court proceedings can occur. When one party walks away from the tables feeling less than satisfied, in the spirit of mediation, the goal has not been achieved. The goal of mediation is to satisfy the needs and interests of both parties. But why is sole purpose of mediation not to come to an agreement, regardless of how they get there? Being under duress to come to an agreement does not facilitate understanding, does not develop useful communication skills for resolving issues before they become problematic nor do they build capacity to creatively and collaboratively problem solve. In an ironic twist, mandatory early family dispute resolution results in the opposite of its intended outcome (i.e. developing communication and problem solving skills).

The third (and most ideal) couple that may interact with--and indeed would most benefit from--the mandatory early family dispute resolution legislation is the couple who are both willing to communicate openly and vulnerably to come to an agreement that satisfies both parties as much as possible. They may each be firm in their positions but are each willing to actively participate in order to ensure the cleanest separation possible. This is the most ideal scenario for early family dispute resolution and the case that is likely going to see the best results because they both have the openness and willingness to learn skills that will help them navigate life as co-parents, future relationships and other conflicts or disagreements that may arise in other areas of life. They also are committed to mitigating harm in the interest of moving forward. Ironically, mandated mediation is most likely to benefit this separating couple even though they are least likely to need it.

So, how can YOU make family mediation work best for your situation?

Firstly, speak to a conflict resolution specialist--such as a Conflict Counselor--and find out what services they offer how they can support you through conflict. If you find yourself in scenario 1 or 2, and unable to find a way forward, be in touch with someone who can support you in finding unique solutions to bring to the table. Bonus if they are a Registered Social Worker or other registered mental health professional, as fees may be covered by your extended health benefits plan.

Secondly, consider counseling to address any unresolved, underlying issues that may be preventing you from leaning into solutions that may satisfy your needs in the moment. Remember, agreements can always be reviewed on an annual basis or any time mutually agreed upon time period. Nothing is permanent if both parties agree to making periodic changes as circumstances warrant it.

Thirdly, never underestimate the importance and power of a solid self-care regimen. Relationship breakdowns and separation/divorce are draining, yet it is impossible to pour from an empty cup. Find activities and supports that fill your cup with joy and love. Detaching with love is not only the safest and healthiest way forward, but it serves everyone's interests.

Not sure where to start with navigating mediation, separating and self-care? Book a free consultation at to get started.


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