As those who visit our website will appreciate, ASM PLUS is not just committed to using various forms of ADR in order to sort out disputes once they have occurred but also, two of our fundamental concepts are Early Dispute Avoidance (EDA) and Early Dispute Resolution.

These two concepts are not defined in any hard and fast manner. EDA envisages identifying the root causes of conflict before they arise. In a commercial retail environment this might entail a particular organisation monitoring the feedback that is given to its complaints department and, possibly with some outside help, ensuring that systems are robust and flexible and that lessons can be learned. EDR envisages addressing difficult situations before they escalate to the point, they become unwieldy, possibly even unmanageable. In some instances, the two concepts will be very compatible with another.

We routinely apply these principles in our work in the voluntary and commercial sectors but why not in family work?

With this in mind I recall the experiences of a particular friend. At a time in the early 1990s when family mediation was very largely unknown, he went through a very acrimonious relationship breakup and married someone who had experienced something similar. They were a very good match and, in most respects, got on. However, after the birth of their first child it became apparent they had very different views about childcare. My friend who had an older daughter from his previous relationship was very much a hands-off parent and an early age he had encouraged her to be very independent. His wife on the other hand for differently and as he saw it, lavished unwarranted attention on their toddler.

Although their relationship ultimately survived, because they were still feeling the effects of the difficulties experienced with their previous partners and for fear upsetting one another, did not have the all-important childcare related conversation that in truth, they really needed to have. The net effect was that a previously very happy couple became very unhappy. As the months rolled by, they became more and more entrenched and there came a point when very harsh things were being said and their close friends really thought they might break up. Fortunately, their child was not privy to their disagreements and was not adversely affected but it was quite some time before they were truly reconciled.

One of the particular dilemmas that my friend and his partner had to face was that three decades ago outside the medical profession it was difficult for them to find anyone to help. They both felt there would be a certain stigma attached to contacting a family therapist and as there were no legal or safeguarding issues, there was no particular need for any other professional to become involved. It seemed to me that their respective friends and relatives more or less took sides and they really had nowhere to go and talk about their disagreements and so their rather acrimonious dispute rumbled on.

These situations are tailor-made for family mediation. The whole process will of course be confidential and it is offered in the context of a safe, neutral, environment. The need for legal advice cannot be ruled out but in scenarios such as that outlined above, there would be no obvious need for court involvement and it’s possible that a mutually acceptable way forward could be found after only one or two sessions.

I have no doubt that if mediation had been an option my friend and his wife could have avoided many unhappy months of acrimonious disagreement. If this situation was to occur today, one of the ASM PLUS family team could convene either mediation or a roundtable discussion at very short notice and help turn around a potentially very difficult situation at very reasonable cost. In acrimonious family situations there is a lot at stake and a great deal to be gained from a modest amount of short-term intervention.