Updated December 2022
A family mediator is a neutral third party who helps families resolve disputes outside of court.
Mediators facilitate discussions between opposing parties and ensure that everyone is able to air their concerns and perspectives.
The goal is to help all parties come to a mutually acceptable solution.
But what does that actually involve? What are the specific functions of a family mediator?
Keep reading to get an inside look at the tasks and responsibilities of this career.
Learn what the role of a family mediator is all about and see if it’s right for you.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF A FAMILY MEDIATOR?
Family mediators help disputing families work out their differences in a safe and comfortable environment.
Litigation is an expensive and time-consuming process that can be very antagonistic.
Mediation offers a quicker, more affordable, and less adversarial way to resolve issues arising from the breakdown of a relationship.
Family mediators often focus on helping separating partners settle matters regarding property, finances, and children.
Certified family mediator Mary Joseph says many people assume—incorrectly—that family mediation is about reconciliation. "In fact, we help people separate, not reconcile! That is our job," she explains.
"If the parties want to try reconciliation, we don't proceed with the mediation. Instead, they would go see a family counsellor, or perhaps a lawyer to draw up a marriage contract."
WHAT TYPES OF DISPUTES DO FAMILY MEDIATORS HANDLE?
Family mediators can help resolve disagreements relating to matters like:
☑️ Prenuptial agreements
☑️ Separation agreements
☑️ Child custody and access
☑️ Child support
☑️ Parenting schedules
☑️ Division of property
☑️ Elder care
☑️ Family business succession
WHAT ARE A FAMILY MEDIATOR’S RESPONSIBILITIES AND OBLIGATIONS?
Family mediators strive to ensure that all parties act respectfully, express their concerns in a productive way, and work toward a solution that everyone can accept.
To that end, some of a family mediator’s main responsibilities include:
Mediators must first meet with each party to see if mediation can be done effectively. A family mediation course will teach you how to screen for power imbalances.
For instance, if one person is greatly afraid of or intimidated by the other, mediation may not be appropriate.
Mary says the point is to make sure each person is able to make their concerns known. "There is an assumption that mediations cannot proceed if there's a power imbalance, and the mediator must somehow 'correct' the imbalance to restore a level playing field," she says.
"The truth is power imbalances are found everywhere in our society. No two people possess the exact same knowledge, skills, experience, or talents. This only becomes a problem if the imbalance inhibits one party from advocating effectively for themselves. This is what the mediator must determine."
☑️ Staying neutral
Family mediators must always be impartial, no matter what. But Mary points out that’s often tougher than you think. "I would say that people vastly underestimate the challenge of remaining neutral while conducting mediations," she says.
"Every mediator is influenced by their own values and personal experiences. We bring all of who we are to the mediation table. We look at each case through many different lenses—and must be very aware of our own biases."
☑️ Allowing the participants to make the decisions
A mediator is responsible for helping the parties come to a solution, not imposing one on them.
Experienced mediator Hayley MacPhail says decisions about a course of action are always left to the participants. "Mediators set the stage for the clients to do the work. They act as facilitators," she explains.
"Mediators work hard to read the room and put forth questions and observations that move the healing forward. This is a really challenging process. As mediators, we create a safe and supportive environment for clients to do the really hard work of moving away from conflict and hurt toward resolution and peace."
DO FAMILY MEDIATORS GIVE LEGAL ADVICE?
No. Part of remaining neutral means not advocating for either side. It’s not a mediator’s job to interpret the law or give advice.
Experts recommend that all parties in a dispute seek advice from a licensed lawyer before beginning mediation.
DO FAMILY MEDIATORS HAVE TO BE CERTIFIED?
Certification is not required to work as a family mediator, but it can boost your credibility and lead to more career opportunities.
Examples of recognized designations include:
- The Accredited Family Mediator (AccFM) designation offered by the Ontario Association for Family Mediation (OAFM)
- The Qualified Mediator (Q.Med) designation offered by the ADR Institute of Ontario (ADRIO)
WANT TO BECOME A FAMILY MEDIATOR?
Explore the Family Mediation Certificate offered by Kompass (a division of Herzing College). Training runs for 12 weeks. It’s delivered online and includes simulated mediations and role plays.
The certificate is accredited by the Ontario Association for Family Mediation and meets the educational requirements for the AccFM designation.
In addition, the certificate's Advanced Family Mediation course is accredited by ADRIO and fulfills 21 of the 40 hours of specialized training required for the Qualified Mediation (Q.Med) designation.
Click below to get further details and chat live with a knowledgeable admissions advisor.