The Moral Order in Family Mediation: Negotiating Competing Values

Published date01 December 2017
Date01 December 2017
C R Q, vol. 35, no. 2, Winter 2017 173
© 2017 Association for Con ict Resolution and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Published online in Wiley Online Library ( • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21195
The Moral Order in Family Mediation:
Negotiating Competing Values
Janet Smithson
Anne Barlow
Rosemary Hunter
Jan Ewing
We used discourse analysis to study how mediators and parties negotiate
competing priorities and values during the family mediation process.
We drew on understandings of practical morality, speci cally the con-
cept of a moral order, to study UK mediation session talk. Our analysis
highlighted the contradictory moral orders drawn on by parties and
mediators.  e saliency of moral categories and concerns in parenting
is demonstrated, and we consider the problems this causes in the “no-
fault” context of mediation.
In the UK family mediation system, separating adults attend mediation
sessions with the goal of reaching an agreement about  nances or child
contact arrangements (or both) after separation or divorce.  is is facili-
tated by a mediator, trained by one of a number of mediation organiza-
tions. A core aim of mediation, which is highlighted in the training, is the
importance of neutral or impartial facilitation, which enables participants
to come to their own decisions (Family Mediation Council 2016 ). How-
ever, mediators are also encouraged to steer participants toward a “fair”
outcome in terms of sharing  nancial assets and care of children (Robinson
2012 ; Webley 2010 ). ey are, moreover, supposed to ensure that, for par-
ents, the “best interests” of the child or children are prioritized.
Many thanks to the participants, both parties and mediators, who consented to these sessions
being recorded.  is work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq
A dilemma in all types of mediation is therefore how to balance
a neutral or impartial facilitation that enables participants to come
to their own decisions with a more directive approach that attempts
to steer participants toward what lawyers would consider a fair out-
come (Robinson 2012 ; Webley 2010 ). In practice, mediators need to
manage these competing expectations or prioritize some over others
(Greatbatch and Dingwall 1989 ). is tension among several of the
core values of mediation is noted in training and re ection on prac-
tice, but there is little detail in training manuals about how mediators
might attend to competing expectations and values during the media-
tion process itself.
Features of Mediation Talk
Mediation shares some general characteristics of institutional talk (Drew and
Heritage 1992 ) and with counseling and therapy encounters in particular.
In common with other counseling and therapy encounters, in mediation
there is an interactional asymmetry between practitioner and participants,
lay versus professional, which sets up and is characterized by speci c turn-
taking procedures, agenda setting, and formulation and preferred types
of responses (Heritage and Greatbatch 1989 ; Hutchby 2005 ; Mondada
1998 ). It is goal oriented, with some forms of talk permitted and others
discouraged, and participants attend to their institution-relevant identities
(e.g., as mediators or as parties).  e mediators are trained to adhere to a
code of practice, which includes a set of explicitly laid out mediation ideals
and norms, although, as previous studies have demonstrated, there are often
gaps between normative ideals and actual practice (Dingwall and Great-
batch 1993 ; Garcia 1991 ; Greatbatch and Dingwall 1997 ). In particular,
the concept of mediator neutrality has been shown to be di cult to achieve
in practice in various studies (Cobb and Rifkind 1991 ; Greatbatch and
Dingwall 1999 ; Jacobs 2002 ). Mediators, in common with therapists and
counselors, often struggle with talking about responsibility and behavior in
a nonblaming neutral setting, particularly when they are dealing with two
parties, or clients, at once in a multiparty situation (Patrika and Tseliou
2016 ).
Kelly ( 1983 ) outlined some of the key distinctions between media-
tion and therapy—in particular, the selectivity of focus in mediation and
the orientation to outcomes: “ e goal is not to cure the con ict but
to redirect and manage it su ciently well to enable the couple to reach

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT