reduce parental hostility,
assist the custodial parent to expect reliable and consistent access, and
assist the access parent to maintain or re-establish a long term relationship with the children.1056
10.4Referrals came from judges, court staff, lawyers, parents and community agencies. The services were provided by an interdisciplinary team of a lawyer, counsellor and consultant psychologist. The lawyer would initiate contempt charges against parties who failed to participate. There was supervised access by volunteers. Cases of child abuse were screened out.
10.5After an intake interview, where certain criteria had to be met1057 a pre-service meeting took place. The parties, their lawyers, the programme lawyer and the counsellor attended. Assessment then took place with interviews of the family, and contact was established with agencies that had already dealt with them. The team then met to decide whether access would be recommended and, if so, a plan was developed. This could be in the form of therapy or counselling of the child, an individual parent, or the parents together, or supervised access. If the parents did not agree with the plan then there was a final settlement meeting with the parents and their lawyers. If no settlement was reached then the programme lawyers could begin contempt proceedings. There was a separate children’s programme to assist children in learning how to deal with the conflict and to rebuild self esteem.
10.6These cases were from families where there was a high level of conflict. It is arguable that these families need considerable direction and control from the court to minimise and set limits for unacceptable behaviour.
Mediation in Canada
10.7The growth in mediation needs to be seen in the context of family law reform in recent years in which the substantive law has changed away from a fault focused system to one recognising the reality of marriage breakdown without fault allocation.1058 This has led to less emphasis on an adversarial system. Procedurally it has led to more emphasis on negotiation and pre-trial conferences to assist early resolution of disputes. Research that has identified damage to children arising from the conflict between parents has also encouraged the movement away from litigation.
10.8Landau et al reported an estimate that there are 1.5 million children in the United States and 150,000 in Canada affected by separation each year.1059 In
1056 Access Assistance Program: Evaluation Report, (1993), at 7, reported in Alberta Research Report (1994: No.20) at 27.
1057 For example, a court order with specific details of access was required - an order of reasonable access was not enough.
1058 Landau, Bartoletti, & Mesbur, Family Mediation Handbook (1987), 2.
1059 Paragraphs 10.8-38 were substantially taken from an unpublished dissertation by Paula Scully, Obstacles to Referral, Planning and Implementation of Family Mediation as a Dispute Resolution Process in Hong Kong; Reflections based on Foreign Systems, April 1996.