January 20, 2012
The Evolving Role of the Family Relations Specialist in Mediation
Back in the 90s, there was a movement in the dispute resolution community to merge legal and mental health services into one mediation process. I’ve been told by colleagues that this model of co-mediation was taught for many years and got a lot of attention at the time as the “new best thing.” This model involved both professionals co-mediating every mediation session, and was not embraced by clients as expected due to the cost of having two hourly professionals simultaneously billing. But the movement did signal the start of a slow integration of legal and mental health services in dispute resolution overall. For instance, all family courts in California have added a Family Court Services department, or mental health mediators that work with parties with minor children; and mental health professionals are more and more team members in mediations and Collaborative Practice processes. These professionals are often called family relations specialists, coaches, or child specialists.
Family relations specialists have various degrees like a PhD, PsyD, or MFT. Their training in complex family dynamics often make them a good professional fit in a team of professionals working with families through their legal disputes—like a divorce or a probate process—as their underlying education and expertise is in mental health services, and they also have specialized training in the particular dynamics of a family legal dispute.
The following are some ways that family relations specialists can assist people experiencing a family dispute:
- Identify and prioritize the concerns of each participant
- Learn new ways of communicating and interacting with ex-partner or family members
- Preparation to control emotions and focus on task
- Support clients in meetings so clients’ voices can be
- For situations involving children, teach parenting techniques and design an evolving co-parenting plan for now and the future
- Work with the children directly, advocating for the child/teen and providing information about the developmental needs of the child (but not making recommendations)
Family relations specialists can be a small or large part of a dispute resolution process. As they bill less per hour than legal professionals, working with them can help create an efficient process due to their substantive input and guidance and also for the cost savings to clients in lower billable hours. They assist the clients with their communication and are a resource to assist in the organization and management of the team, if necessary.
Bullet points adapted from presentation by: Kathleen Bar-Tur, LCSW