Marian Roberts, Family Mediator, Former Visiting Fellow and Guest Teacher on the LSE ADR Law Masters
The Family Solutions Group (FSG) Report of November 2020 makes some commendable proposals for addressing the multiple needs of separating and divorcing families with particular focus on safety concerns, reducing conflict and giving greater centrality to children’s rights. This article seeks to highlight the Report’s more contentious recommendations particularly those relevant to family mediation.
Part 1 explores the implications of prioritising the rights of the child in dispute resolution processes over all other considerations (apart from safety) contrary to national professional and ethical standards, as well as raises concerns about proposals that promote greater welfare surveillance of separating families. Part 1 highlights too the paternalist, prescriptive and ethnocentric implications of the recommendation that ‘making positive eye contact’ should be the single, culturally expected standard of behaviour for separated parents at handover times (where safety is not an issue) and that this should become a court created ‘definable welfare threshold’ (para 13).
Part 11 raises equally serious concerns relating to the Report’s recommendations for language changes that diffuse rather than clarify meanings and professional boundaries ( e g removing the concept of ‘dispute’ from the lexicon) and for a restricted view of the scope of the Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) as serving a primary, pre-court statutory function. Part 11 finally highlights the limits of the proposed safety-determined two pathway approach for family cases, an approach which serves the diversionary interests of the court and which increases the risk of denying access to justice.