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Holistic standards for unregulated profession of mediation | Julie Gill, Jennifer Daudlin and Tom Dart

Friday, July 02, 2021 @ 1:18 PM | By Julie Gill, Jennifer Daudlin and Tom Dart

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The Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (FDRIO) is an interdisciplinary organization that provides certifications, networking and advocacy for family dispute resolution (FDR) professionals including, but not limited to, mediators, arbitrators, parenting co-ordinators, financial professionals and academics.

As an organization supporting FDR professionals, we are comfortable speaking to the competencies, standards of education, supervision, continuing education and evaluation required by our FDR professionals.

We read, with some concern and disappointment, the column published in The Lawyer’s Daily on June 22, 2021, titled “Mediation: The Unregulated Profession,” written by Gary Joseph.  

As FDR professionals, we have exceptional opportunities to hear the wants, needs and concerns of everyone involved in an FDR process — from clients to the courts. It is this unique role which provides us with a substantially different, and holistic, perspective than our colleagues who serve only one party to the dispute.

The long overdue and welcomed recent amendments to family law legislation highlight the need for greater access to justice, referrals to alternative family dispute resolution processes and awareness of family violence. The changes to the legislation’s language reduce the focus from clients as individuals and minimizes their ability to “finger-point,” which increases conflict and refocuses on the needs of the family and the obligation of each participant to actively work to minimize conflict. Moreover, the legislation highlights that working to meet the needs of each unique family requires more than just legal advice.

While mediation is an unregulated profession, as an FDR certification body, FDRIO encourages our members to become certified and support the path to provincial and federal regulation. We have set high Standards of Practice. We have screening guidelines for mediation, arbitration and parenting co-ordination. We are the only organization in Ontario that certifies parenting co-ordinators and have dedicated Standards of Practice for Parenting Coordination. We do not certify anyone who does not meet our stringent criteria. Further, we consistently provide continuing professional development to enable our certified members (and members seeking certification) to keep up to date with procedural, substantive and professional issues and best practices.

In addition to FDRIO, historically Ontario family mediators have received designations from Family Mediation Canada and the Ontario Association for Family Mediation.

There is full support from all organizations for mandatory insurance, mandatory continuing professional development and mandatory training. To say otherwise is wholly incorrect.

We should all share the same concerns about intentionally untrained professionals; especially those who are not trained to do proper screening for family violence (including intimate partner violence) and power imbalances. FDRIO has and continues to advocate for screening for family violence and power imbalances as a core competency that does not just fall under FDR but is critical to the success of any family law services.

While regulation may be the start of a long-term solution, education is key — and available in the short term. Education for both professionals working with families, the families themselves and the public generally, brings awareness to out-of-court dispute resolution options, and ensures they understand the value, strengths and weaknesses of the various family dispute resolution options. In short, education is needed to ensure appropriate access to justice and to protect the public from engaging services of intentionally untrained individuals.

We hope that lawyers will encourage their clients to work with certified mediators, arbitrators and parenting co-ordinators (depending on their clients’ needs) and promote the evolution of this conversation and awareness surrounding FDR.

We believe that all professionals in family dispute resolution have a responsibility to protect and educate the public. We all need to continue to talk about the importance of working with a trained, preferably certified mediator.

It must be made clear that professionally trained and experienced mediators do not lead or coerce clients. They do not prey upon the weak, the poor, the uninformed or the victims to intimate partner violence. In contrast — they are trained to be neutral professionals and have a toolbox of skills to facilitate a negotiation. They identify clients’ unique vulnerabilities and refer them to appropriate services, considering factors that may not be legally relevant but are important to the family.

Family mediators with designations have and continue to “up their game” as Gary Joseph suggests. We would like to challenge all FDR professionals to do the same.

We are aware of and understand the inherent complexities of family law and the provision of family law services and realize that there is no magic-one-size-fits-all solution. FDRIO is constantly striving for a highly trained — and certified — profession.  

Our member FDR professionals are front-line family service professionals. From this perspective we are not only able to recognize and identify gaps in the available processes and practice of family law, and observe its (sometimes rapidly) shifting landscape, but to provide, what we believe are more holistic, family-focused, areas of consideration that would improve access to timely, affordable and equitable family law justice, across all demographics.

We welcome all opportunities for informed discussions about family dispute resolution, including the opportunity to discuss the issues raised in Gary Joseph’s article.

A holistic view into setting standards for the unregulated profession of mediation will require collaboration, education and a government review for the possibility of regulation. FDRIO is uniquely positioned and prepared to participate in furthering any discussions around FDR.

Julie Gill is the owner of Families First Mediation. She is a certified specialist in mediation, a certified divorce financial analyst, arbitrator and qualified family arbitration screener. She works with families in the area of elder wills and estates disputes with her international designation as an advanced certified elder mediator. She is a board member of FDRIO and a co-chair of the Advocacy Committee. Jennifer Daudlin joined Legal Aid Ontario as the bilingual designate family law duty counsel and founded Daudlin Law P.C. She expanded the scope of her bilingual family law litigation practice to include mediation, arbitration and parenting co-ordination (accreditation pending). She is a certified specialist in mediation and parenting co-ordination with FDRIO. She is a board member of FDRIO and a co-chair of the Advocacy Committee. Tom Dart is a certified specialist in mediation and arbitration and was practising with Barriston LLP in Barrie, Ont. He is a founding member of FDRIO, the past president of the Family Law Section of the Ontario Bar Association, Family Mediation Canada and the Ontario Association for Family Mediation, and an active member of FDRIO’s Advocacy Committee.

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