Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Entering the Family Relations Mediation World


In an effort to reduce court system caseload and to provide the parties with more control over the outcomes of a dispute, mediation has appeared as a viable solution.

Fascinated by the legal field, and especially by the language of the law, several years ago I sought and gained certification as a court interpreter.  About two years ago I started interpreting in civil cases - mostly family law cases like paternity actions, child support and marriage dissolution proceedings - and got to know the various judges that hear this type of case.  One of them told me about mediation and the need for bilingual mediators, and this suggested my next professional move. While I love being a court interpreter, and hope to continue interpreting in court settings, I had been looking for an activity that would allow me to use my language and interpersonal skills as well as my personal and professional experience more broadly and freely. 

Mediation resonated with me because I have always enjoyed the role of a facilitator.  I enjoy being a professor precisely because the role of a teacher, at any level, is that of a facilitator of the learning process – especially in today's information era where learners have access to inexhaustible information. While the role of the interpreter is to facilitate communication between two parties that do not share the same language, the scope of the role of the interpreter did not provide me with the opportunity I was truly looking for; namely the opportunity of offering a bit more of myself in my work.

Mediation is a problem-solving process in which a neutral and impartial mediator encourages and facilitates two or more parties to resolve their dispute.  As an informal and non-adversarial approach aimed at reaching a mutually accepted agreement shaped by the parties according to their individual needs and concerns, it is an alternative to a court proceeding (although oftentimes mediation is court-ordered).  Once it has been file marked (signed by the judge and stamped by the court’s clerk), the agreement is legally binding and enforceable. 

The mediator assists parties in identifying the issues, clarifying priorities, exploring areas of compromise, and finding both points of agreement and legitimate points of contention.  The number one priority the mediator stresses to the parties is that any agreement they reach is to be based on their own decisions and not the decisions of the mediator. In mediation there are no winners or losers, just satisfied individuals. When an agreement is reached, it should be an agreement people will be able to keep. It may not be what the parties wished for at the beginning of the mediation session, but it should certainly be something they can find satisfying.  The mediated agreement may not resolve all of the disputed issues, but the process can reduce points of contention.  While an agreement is not always reached, parties and their representatives are required to mediate in good faith. Otherwise, mediation would prove to be a useless processes.

It boggles the mind to find out that sometimes all a party wants or needs is to be heard – to have the opportunity to tell his or her side of the story.  After being heard, the hurt and resentment seem to start to fade away and parties can move on with their lives, which is healthy.

Aside from my regular professional activities, preparing for entering the world of mediation has kept me a bit busy, which justifies to a larger extend my absence from my blog.  To become a registered mediator in the state of Indiana, I took a 40-hour domestic relations mediation workshop which is required for inclusion in the Indiana Domestic Relations Mediator Registry.  I have been fortunate enough to have joined, by invitation, the well-known and highly-respected mediation practice The Mediation Option, located in Indianapolis. As a non-attorney, I can mediate in family relations issues which involve mostly dissolution or marriage issues such as child custody, child support and division of marital assets.

It won't surprise you to know that I specialize in mediations involving non-English speakers. In addition to mediating in languages other than English, I have also acted as an interpreter in mediation sessions – an interesting experience that I will be writing about soon.

Mediation has enormous potential benefits and continues to grow as an alternative to traditional court processes. These benefits should be available to non-English speakers, as well.