High‐conflict parents in mediation: An analysis of dialogues and sources to conflict

Published date01 May 2018
Date01 May 2018
High-conflict parents in mediation: An analysis
of dialogues and sources to conflict
Wenke Gulbrandsen | Hanne Haavind | Odd A. Tjersland
Department of Psychology, University of Oslo,
Oslo, Norway
Odd A. Tjersland, Department of Psychology,
University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1094, Blindern,
0317 Oslo, Norway.
Email: o.a.tjersland@psykologi.uio.no
A significant proportion of parents in mediation present
destructive and escalating conflicts. In a naturalistic study
of sessions with high-conflict couples, we observed dia-
logues with frequent interruptions, rapidly shifting subjects,
and emotional attacks. A systematic search revealed eight
distinct sources of conflict that interfered with the media-
tion process: Two related to the breakup, four regarding
differing concerns of care for the child, and two mainly
about the contextual conditions for childcare arrangements.
The article describes these sources of conflicts in a format
that could increase the capacity of mediators to recognize
and address them during the process of mediation.
It is an established finding that children from divorced families experience more individual and
social problems than children from intact families (Emery, 1999; Kelly, 2000). In addition to the
reduced economic status after the divorce, the main explanation of these issues has been found in
separating parents with higher conflict levels (Amato, 2000, 2001; Cheng et al., 2006; McIntosh,
Wells, & Long, 2007). Although having a relationship with both parents is considered a resource for
the child, these relationships can lose value or even turn into a burden if the parentsconflict affects
their caring abilities.
Norway is not alone in witnessing a steady increase in the number of marriages and cohabita-
tions ending in divorce or separation. This increase, combined with the increased awareness of the
harmful effects of parental conflict on children, was central in the 1990s when the Norwegian gov-
ernment passed a law mandating mediation for all separating parents with children 16 years of age
and younger. The main intention was to help parents come to an agreement and cooperation regard-
ing future care for the children (Act on Children and Parents, 1981; Act on Marriage, 1991). Cou-
ples who bring their case to the court must have attended mediation first. Only one session is
mandatory, but the process is free of charge for up to seven sessions. The sessions are led by
Received: 17 October 2017 Revised: 9 January 2018 Accepted: 10 January 2018
DOI: 10.1002/crq.21214
© 2018 Association for Conflict Resolution and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Conflict Resolution Quarterly. 2018;35:335349. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/crq 335

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