Family mediation is a process where a neutral third party – the mediator – helps two people in conflict to negotiate the terms of a mutually satisfactory separation agreement.
There are many different types of mediators – all have different qualifications and styles. A mediator who has earned professional accreditation has met stringent training and practice requirements. If a mediator lacks professional accreditation, be careful.
Mediation is not for everyone. For example, if spouses have an abusive relationship, if there is a serious power imbalance, if one spouse refuses to make full financial disclosure, or if there are serious mental health issues, mediation may not be appropriate. The mediator will screen for these red flags during the initial intake meetings.
Mediation is a voluntary process, meaning that either spouse is free to leave at any time. If both spouses are truly committed to making it work, however, it generally will!
What are the benefits of the mediation process?
The following features of the mediation process will help you understand why so many satisfied clients are so pleased that they have chosen to work with us in mediation!
- They have remained in control of their process. We make sure that they understand and agree with everything that is happening, and that they are comfortable throughout;
- Each mediation session is intensive, meaning that a half-day or a full day is reserved for each meeting. In this way, each case is completed within two or three intensive sessions (as opposed to being stretched out among numerous shorter meetings). In this way, cases resolve quickly, and our clients don’t need to keep booking time off of work to attend endless mediation sessions;
- The process is respectful. The focus is not on the past – it is on moving forward fairly and productively. Clients have the chance to speak their minds and express their feelings, but we work to avoid getting stuck on blame or fault-finding;
- Where parties have children, time is spent discussing the need for a productive future co-parenting relationship, and how this can best be achieved;
- Referrals to other professionals, such as therapists for the children, are offered where appropriate;
- We are non-judgmental, easy to talk to, and focussed on helping clients create solutions that are fair for the entire family;
- We never force clients into anything – we believe in self-determination. While we will keep the conversation properly focussed and provide a reality check where people are being unrealistic in their demands or positions, we will not make decisions for our clients. We succeed in facilitating resolution without being pushy.
- The cost of the process is explained during the first meeting and a contract is signed so that there will be no surprises where fees are concerned. The fees are quite reasonable – in fact, a bargain compared to the fees for an adversarial process with two lawyers. Mediation fees are divided equally between the parties, so each client only pays half the mediator`s hourly rate;
- Our legal experience ensures that any agreements reached in mediation are legally sustainable so that when clients go for independent legal advice, it is unlikely that there will be any surprises, or that significant changes will be needed.
- Our process ends with the creation of a draft agreement which we provide to the lawyers so that they can cut and paste it into a final separation agreement in the proper format – and usually any changes are very minor in nature.
- Again, if clients truly want mediation to work, it will! Choosing mediation is one of the smartest decisions you can make for your family, and is one of the best ways to preserve a respectful working relationship while avoiding unnecessary legal fees and achieving a resolution that is fair to everyone.
What exactly happens in mediation?
Our first meeting will begin with separate, back-to-back, individual intake meetings. The individual meetings give me an opportunity to get to know each client separately, so that I can better understand the issues and concerns that are most important to each person. The individual meetings also give each client an opportunity to get to know me, to gain an understanding of the process, and to ask questions or express concerns in a confidential setting.
Following the individual meetings, if I determine that the case is an appropriate one for mediation, I will commence the first joint meeting.
As a first step in this initial joint meeting, we will go over the Agreement to Mediate, which describes the process and the role of the mediator. The Agreement to Mediate also sets out my fees. The parties will be asked to sign this agreement and provide a retainer prior to commencement of the joint sessions. If the clients have any questions or concerns about the Agreement or the fees, they will have an opportunity to address these concerns at this time.
After signing the Agreement to Mediate, we shall set an agenda of issues we need to discuss and resolve, and then begin working through them in an orderly way.
Because the individual meetings each take approximately one hour, we will usually spend up to three further hours on the joint meeting for a total of five hours on the first day.
Following the first meeting, I will email you a summary of the points tentatively agreed upon. This email will also contain “homework“ to be completed prior to the second session (for example, financial documentation to be collected), and a proposed agenda for the next meeting. We will schedule a second meeting via email.
The second and subsequent meetings (if necessary) will each be four to five hours in length as well. In this way, we can be extremely efficient and accomplish as much as possible in each meeting. This translates to reaching a final tentative agreement after only a few sessions.
After we have a final tentative agreement on all issues, I will draft a document called a “Memorandum of Understanding” which can be converted to a Final Separation Agreement after clients have obtained independent legal advice (ILA).
Why do we need ILA? You are a lawyer, aren’t you? Why can’t you be our mediator and our lawyer?
Although I am a lawyer by profession, my role in the mediation process differs from the role played by lawyers. As a mediator, I do not and will not give individual legal advice, since each party will have different legal rights and interests and it is impossible to act in the best interests of both parties at once, since these will often conflict.
Moreover, it is against the Rules of Professional Conduct of the Law Society of Upper Canada (the governing body for lawyers in Ontario) to act for two clients in the same case.
Although I cannot give legal advice, I do give general legal information where it can assist clients in understanding what a range of reasonable legal outcomes might be. Where clients wish to agree to something which significantly departs from the legal standard in Ontario, I will make sure they are aware of this. Clients are free to agree on whatever they want, but if they agree on something which is really contrary to the letter or the spirit of the law of Ontario, I will make them aware of this, since their lawyers will probably bring this up when they go for ILA anyway. I don`t want there to be any surprises in the ILA process. Sometimes the clients feel that there is a compelling reason to deviate from the law, and that what is morally and ethically right might be different from what a judge might do. This is fine as long as they receive proper legal advice, understand the risks, and decide to sign an agreement in that context.
But if we need ILA anyway, what’s the point of mediation? Why wouldn’t we just go the lawyer route in the first place?
Even with ILA, the mediation process is significantly less expensive than if lawyers had been involved from the outset. Often, clients choose to have a lawyer working ìn the background to advise them throughout the mediation process, but sometimes they only need a couple of hours` worth of advice at the end of mediation. Either way, the lawyers are supporting players in the process and their role is much more limited than in an adversarial process, where their fees can be crippling.
Remember, the mediation fees are split equally between the parties and the process is streamlined and completed quickly. Negotiating back and forth through lawyers can take years and result in significant expense and delay. Mediation is a smart choice, both financially and emotionally, for those who use it!
What are your qualifications?
I am an accredited family mediator with the Ontario Association for Family Mediation, a long-time supervisor and mentor to mediation interns who are pursuing accreditation, and a roster mediator for the on-site and off-site family court mediation clinics at the Superior Court of Justice at 393 University Avenue, Toronto, and the Superior Court of Justice and Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton.
I completed my accreditation process in 2004 and, in addition to my court-based mediation work, have had a thriving private practice for many years. My many satisfied clients have been able to begin the post-separation chapter of their lives knowing that they have achieved a fair settlement and, where children are involved, that they have invested their time and energy wisely in creating child-centered, solution-oriented parenting relationships with their ex-spouses.
I am currently completing an LL.M. (Masters in Law) at Osgoode Hall Law School with a focus on Alternative Dispute Resolution, and through this experience have gained extensive further knowledge of the theory and practice of mediation and other alternative dispute resolution processes.
I also hold an LL.B. from Osgoode, as well as an Honours B.A. in Psychology; I practiced family law for 10 years and, in the past, also completed mediation internships under a psychologist and a number of experienced social workers. As such, my professional background is eclectic, and in addition to my legal and technical knowledge, I bring a sensitive, caring, and child-centered approach to my work.
Finally, as a mother to three wonderful school-age children, I also understand how deeply my clients love their children and how important it is to put them first as we work through the various legal issues which need to be resolved!
Please check out my bio for more information!