Find Mediators Near You:

Factors Predictive Of Divorce Mediator Style


The American family has undergone many changes in the last century. Some indicators of the changes are occurrences such as: increasing numbers of young mothers in the work force, more children requiring extra-familial care, high rates of divorce, lower rates of remarriage, increasing numbers of female-headed households, growing numbers of families without children, and significant occurrences of child maltreatment (Burgess, 1994). Notable among all these changes pertaining to the family is the way spouses deal with divorce disputes. Church reforms brought about by Martin Luther paved the way, in the western world, for family disputes, stemming from separation and divorce, to be handled through the civil rather than the ecclesiastical courts (Brown, 1982). In the late sixties, however, alternatives for handling separation and divorce disputes, other than traditional adversarial methods, came into focus (Fuller, 1971; Brown, 1982; Grebe, 1986a, 1994a, 1994b). One of the major forces in the exploration of alternatives for resolving family dispute was O. J. Coogler, who developed a unique approach to these disputes, called structured mediation for separation and divorce (1977, 1978, 1979).

Since that time, family mediation has developed a body of mediation theory and a set of techniques to resolve family disputes. Mediation is now the preferred means of resolution for all types of conflicts (family, organizational, community, environmental, etc.; Wrightman, Nietzel & Fortune, 1998). In addition, specific standards for the training of family and divorce mediators have been promulgated. This evolution of mediation has not been without problems as its practitioners come from a variety of professional backgrounds (professions-of-origin) including social work. While no longer true, in 1983, Pearson, Ring and Milne found
that social workers made up the largest proportion of trained family mediators. This was not surprising, since, according to Parsons (1991), social work’s role in society has often been viewed as that of a mediator. The present research was geared to build on social work knowledge in this area as well as in the general field of divorce and family mediation.


The purpose of the present study was to examine the predictability of mediator style by: profession-of-origin; other selected factors such as personal conflict resolution style, inter-personal style, and the degree of mediation experience. Further, it was hoped that this study would shed light on the relationship between the central moral values of each of the dominant professions-of-origin and the preferred style of mediation of the practitioner. To this end, an attempt was made to relate the dominant moral value of each profession or discipline as defined in the literature and their codes of ethics with the dominant moral value of mediation in general and divorce/family mediation in particular, in order to aid in the prediction of the mediation style adopted by members of each profession-of-origin or discipline. Since actual observation of mediation sessions was outside the scope of this study, the research was limited to the style of the mediator as reported by the research participants.

The study hypotheses was multi-faceted. In total, the hypothesis stated that Family Mediator Style could be predicted by several factors: (a) by profession-of-origin; (b) by interpersonal style (showing respect for other’s self-determination), by personal conflict style and leadership style: and (c) by certain career related and background variables such as socialization into mediation (defined as number of years mediating), and gender.


The literature relevant to this study was comprised of the theoretical content and empirical research pertaining to four specific areas. First, the broad theoretical underpinnings for this study, specifically, role theory (Sarbin & Allen, 1968; Stryker & Stratham, 1985), were presented. This included such concepts as role expectation (Sarbin, 1954; Siporin, 1973) and socialization (Weiss, 1981; Singer, 1982; Bess, 1978; Shore, 1985).
Next, the literature relevant to the specific theoretical framework for this study based on the contemporary understanding of a profession was explored. This was focused especially on the value components of a profession’s and their resulting influence on practice. Related concepts, such as autonomy and justice, were drawn from ethical theory related to professional values. Further, the ethical principles inherent in mediation theory, the value bases of mediation and of the professions of origin for family and divorce mediators were examined.

Third, there was also a review of the concepts critical for understanding the practice of mediation. These included areas such as cooperation, competition, and the role of the mediator as neutral from Deutsch (1973), and from Rubin & Brown (1975); interest-based versus position-based bargaining plus the principle of creating options for mutual gain from Fisher & Ury (1981); and a process for exploring interests and concerns within a problem- solving format from Grebe, et. al. (1989, 1990) and Grebe (1994a, 1994b). While not specifically the basis of the variables being studied, these latter concepts form the context for the study.

Finally, there was a review of the literature related to the variables examined in this study, namely: personal conflict style (Thomas and Kilmann, 1974; Kilmann & Thomas, 1977); mediator style (Bernard, et. al., 1984; Folberg and Taylor, 1984; among others); leadership style (White & Lippett, 1968); and self-determination (Lorr & Youniss, 1986; Lorr, 1990). This focused on the literature relevant to the questions being studied: whether divorce/ family mediator style is influenced significantly by profession of origin, personal conflict style, personal leadership style, and personal support for self-determination in others. The concepts central to the study were identified, clarified and defined.


The specific theoretical framework for this study is based on the contemporary understanding of a profession, particularly a profession’s value orientation which influences practice. Various related concepts are drawn from ethical theory related to professional values, specifically the concept of autonomy. Further, the ethical principles inherent in mediation theory, the value bases of mediation and of the main professions-of-origin for family and divorce mediators are explored. One of the conflicts being played out in the field of family mediation is which of the primary professions-of-origin’s values will prevail in defining family mediation. The context for the struggle over control of the field of divorce/family mediation is conflict resolution theory. Inherent in this struggle are the values that direct the knowledge base and practice style of the mediator. To understand the struggle that has been taking place, it was instructive to examine role theory, including role expectation and socialization. Role theory provided the broad theoretical underpinnings for this study.


The rationale for this study was based on the need for clarifying the theory base of family mediation and its implications for training and delivery of mediation services. The design of this study was an ex post facto cross-sectional survey, which utilized a modification of the Total Design Method developed by Dillman (1978). It was correlational in nature and utilized both bivariate and multivariate statistical procedures. Bivariate analyses were used to explore the relationships between the study variables. The multivariate procedure of discriminant function analysis was used to test the study hypotheses and to investigate the relationship of profession-of-origin to mediation style. Discriminant function analysis determines the set of independent variables which best discriminate among group membership which defines the dependent variable (in this instance – mediation style).


The research instrument was a 16 page self-administered questionnaire in booklet form, consisting of items designed to elicit information regarding the demographic and social characteristics of the study respondents and of the scales used to operationalize the theoretical model. For two of the independent variables, two standard inventories were selected, the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (Thomas & Kilmann (1974) and the relevant portion of the Interpersonal Style Inventory developed by Maurice Lorr (Lorr, M. & Youniss, R. P., 1986). The Thomas-Kilmann format, which uses a forced-choice format designed to reduce the effects of social or item desirability in the participants’ responses, was the one used as the standard for the construction of the other sections of the questionnaire.

In total there were four major scales or inventories utilized in the study instrument, plus items designed to elicit information on profession-of-origin as well as various demographic information. The “Mediator Style Instrument” was an original inventory developed by the researcher and designed to operationalize the dependent variable of mediator style. Each submeasure elicited preference for one of the three mediator styles: directive, mid-range and non-directive, which were based on concepts defining mediator style from Bernard, Folger, Weingarten & Zumeta (1984). This was a self-administered, forced-choice instrument consisting of twenty-one paired statements. The instrument allowed for scores in all three mediation style categories ranging from zero to fourteen but with no more than a total score of twenty-one across all three categories.

Profession-of-origin, an independent variable defined as the profession in which the study respondent originally trained, before becoming a mediator, was measured utilizing the participants’ responses to a multi-part question on education. This item allowed for the selection of more than one level of education ranging from a high school diploma through a doctoral degree. Participants were also asked to indicate the major area of study for each degree received (fill-in-the-blank) and the degree received.
The next independent variable, interpersonal style (showing respect for self-determination), was defined along a bi-polar continuum from autonomy to dependency. This concept was operationalized by a subscale of the “Interpersonal Style Inventory” – the ISI (Lorr & Youniss, 1986; Lorr, 1990). It was comprised of three dimensions: Directive-Non-directive, Independent-Conforming, and Rule Free-Rule Bound. The ISI is a true-false self-administered instrument designed to measure an individual’s characteristic ways of relating to other people. The subscale consists of 60 true-false statements and elicits preference for autonomy or dependency.

The third independent variable, personal conflict style, is a two dimensional construct consisting of assertiveness and cooperativeness, and which yields five conflict styles: competition; avoidance; compromise; accommodation; and collaboration. Personal conflict style was operationalized by the “Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument”, developed by Thomas & Kilmann (1974). This was a self-administered, forced-choice instrument consisting of thirty pairs of statements designed to measure an individual’s conflict handling behavior from among the five conflict styles. The forced-choice design is to reduce social desirability response bias. The instrument allowed for separate scores in all five style categories ranging from zero to twelve in each, with no more than a total score of thirty across all five styles.
The last independent variable, leadership style, was defined as comprising three styles: the autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire leader. These styles were operationalized by the “Leadership Style Scale”, an original inventory developed by the researcher to elicit preference for one of the three approaches to leadership. This was a self-administered forced choice instrument along the lines of the Thomas-Kilmann instrument, consisting of twenty-one pairs of statements. The items for this scale were taken directly from a list of specific characteristics identified by White & Lippett (1968) in their study on leadership style. The instrument allowed for scores in all three categories ranging from zero to fourteen in each category, with no more than a total of twenty-one across all three styles.


Data were collected using a mail questionnaire sent to all current practitioner members of the Academy of Family Mediators (as of April, 1997) residing in North America (the United States and Canada, n=730). As of that date, practitioner members in the Academy of Family Mediators comprised the highest level of membership and the only level that had specific requirements for mediation training and experience. The final sample size was 448, which constituted a usable response rate of 62%.

The data collected from the questionnaires were coded and entered into both the CUA VAX computer system and into a PC. The data were analyzed using the Statistical Package for the Social Science (SPSS 8.0). Frequencies, measures of central tendency, variance and percentages were obtained and utilized to describe the study population. Statistical analyses included bivariate and multivariate measures. Bivariate analyses included Chi-square analyses, Pearson’s Product Moment Correlation and F ratios. Chi-square was utilized to explore the associations between the dependent variable of mediator style and the various independent variables. Pearson’s Product Moment Correlation was used to look at collinearity and to help with the selection of the final set of independent variables for inclusion in the multivariate statistical procedure, specifically discriminant function analysis. F ratios obtained as part of that mutlivariate procedure were used to look at significance levels of individual variables when included in the discriminant function analysis.
The multivariate procedure, discriminant function analysis, was employed to determine the best set of predictors of membership in one of the three mediator style categories. It is similar in concept to regression analysis, and is used to build a predictive model of group membership based on the observed characteristics of each case. As discussed in chapter IV, the alphas for several of the ipsative measures were unacceptably low. However, discriminant function analysis does not rely on demonstrated reliability quotients for the analysis to be appropriately applied. In order to further reduce the possible effects of reliability concerns, the dependent variable of mediation style was reduced from interval data to a nominal measure, since discriminant function analysis can be utilized to analyze a dependent variable that is nominal rather than interval.


The study population, consisting of 448 practitioner level members of the Academy of Family Mediators (AFM), were between 28 and 82 years of age, with the mean age being 51.4 years (males, c=51.1 years; females, c=51.9 years). More than half (52.9%) of the study population fell within the 45-54 age group. Overall, 65.0% of the respondents were women, 34.6% were men and most were married (75.9%). Further, most study respondents were white/Caucasian (95.8%). The other 4.2% of the respondents were spread out over a number of ethnic categories: mixed heritage, African American, Native American, Asian American, or “other,” none were Hispanic or Latino. All respondents had obtained at least some college and most held a degree on the graduate level, with 75% reporting either a Master’s or law degree, and another 14% holding a doctoral level degree. Nearly a quarter (23.2%) of those responding made between $40,000 to $54,999 annual income from all sources, while almost a fifth (19.2%) earned between $35,000 and $39,999, and another 14.5% reported earning over $100,000 per year. Not quite one third (28.3%) make over $55,000 but less than $100,000 annually, and about one tenth (11.8%) make less than $25,0000 a year.

Clearly, these results raise issues of diversity and economics. If mediators are overwhelmingly white in numbers, are the needs of other ethnic groups for mediation and mediation professionals being met. If most mediators are part time, middle-aged and most earn less than $55,000 from al sources, does this explain the disproportionate numbers of women among the study respondents.


Nearly all study participants appeared to have been primarily trained as divorce mediators (83.2% of those responding to this item) rather than in the other types of family disputes, and to have received their training in a 40 hour basic training format (71.8% of those responding to this item), which they obtained from a non-degree, non-university provider (95.4% of those responding to this item). The most frequent profession-of-origin identified by the study participants was law (48.0% listed it as at least one of their professions-of-origin), followed by psychologists and counselors (20.5% listed it as at least one of their professions-of-origin) and social workers (16.7% listed it as at least one of their professions-of-origin). Other professions-of-origin included education (7.6%), family therapy (3.6%), sociology (3.0%) and “other” (17.6%). Most respondents appeared to experienced mediators if measured by number of years mediating, with 81.3% having more than five years of experience. However, despite the length of experience reported, most respondents are apparently only part-time mediators, making less than fifty percent of their income from mediation (68.2%) and mediating fewer than 100 total cases (28.0%). Fourteen respondents gave no response to this question, leaving open the question as to whether they had too many cases to count or not enough to report at all. In addition most appeared to practice primarily in a private setting (62.2% indicated that more than fifty-one percent of their mediation was in a private setting), rather than in a court or community-based setting.


The present study was designed to test the extent to which mediator style (the dependent variable) could be predicted by various independent and control variables. Based on the three broad styles identified by Bernard, Folger, Weingarten, & Zumeta (1984), mediator style was defined as directive, mid-range or non-directive according to the level of intervention by the third party neutral (i.e., person acting in the mediator role): intrusive intervention (i.e., the directive style), facilitative intervention or (the midrange style) and minimal intervention (i.e., the non-directive style).
Briefly, the study hypotheses stated that family mediator style could be predicted by several factors: by profession-of-origin; by various aspects of interpersonal behavior including interpersonal style (showing respect for other’s self-determination); by personal conflict style; by leadership style and by certain career related and background variables such as socialization into mediation (defined as number of years mediating), and gender.

Bivariate analyses utilized to affirm the existence of a significant association between mediation style and the independent variables showed that such association existed. Using chi-square, F-ratio and/or Pearson’s Correlation analyses, the following independent variables were found to be significantly associated with and/or predictive of one or more of the mediation styles (the dependent variable): (1) profession of origin; (2) the directive/ non-directive and the rule free/rule bound interpersonal style dimensions; (3) the competing, the collaborating, the compromising, and the avoiding personal conflict style dimensions; and (3) the authoritarian, the democratic, and the laissez-faire leadership style dimensions; and (4) gender and socialization into mediation, although the latter was not in the direction hypothesized. Thus only one dimension from the interpersonal style variable and one dimension from the personal conflict style variable were found not to be significantly associated with or predictive of mediation style. Most importantly, the hypothesis for profession-of-origin was confirmed in that more respondents from law, than from the other professions-of-origin, were found to be directive in mediation style; more from social work were found to be mid-range in style and more from psychology were found to be non-directive in style.

The multivariate procedure of canonical discriminant function analysis, utilized to analyze the strength and direction of the association between the dependent and independent variables, showed there was a statistically significant predictability of the dependent variable of mediation style by the final set of discriminant variables. There are a number of indices produced concurrently by the discriminant function analysis which indicate that this was the case. For example, the canonical correlations (see Tables 4.34 & 4.39), for the two discriminant functions, show that there is a fairly strong association between the final set of independent or discriminant variables and the three mediator groups, that is directional – the discriminant variables indeed discriminant among the mediation categories. This is accomplished through the agency of the regression-like equations that define the discriminant functions (vectors) that discriminate among the mediation style categories. Wilks’ Lambda showed that the discriminating power of these two functions was statistically significant. In addition , both the values in the structure matrix (Table 4.35) and the standardized canonical discriminant function coefficients for the two discriminant functions (see Table 4.34) indicate the relative impact of the different discriminant variables on mediation style varied from moderately strong to very strong. Further, the cross-validation procedure performed on the data showed that the model developed from the training set of data was strong in discriminating among groups for the test set of data whose data was not used in constructing the model. This finding was confirmed by the percentage correctly classified by the model when all the cases were included. Therefore, the selection of the final set of discriminant variables resulted in a useful model. By inference, one can state that the final discriminant variable selection process, which was based on a combination of chi-square, F ratios, and Pearson’s Correlation analyses, and on theory, was effective in developing a strong discriminant model. Therefore, it appears that the most aspects of the study hypothesis were supported by both the bivariate and multivariate analyses.


There were several limitations of the present study. First, the population surveyed were members of one of the major family mediation organization, the Academy of Family Mediators, the only one with at least minimum membership requirements, including a certain numbers of hours spent mediating. As a result the study population was comprised mostly of those with large amounts of experience. None of the respondents reported fewer than two years of experience, and only one reported fewer than the required minimum of 10 completed cases. In fact only 33 respondents or about 7%, reported fewer than fifty cases. It is possible that some of the expected differences were masked by the large amount of experience present in the majority of the study population. However, available resources were such that it was not possible to survey members of the other national organizations nor if that were possible to minimize possible duplication of responses from those belonging to more than one of the organizations.

Second, the number and types of professions-of-origin were more diverse than the study conceptualization allowed for. Many that were represented in small numbers were combined into one larger “other” professions-of-origin category. Subsequent analyses were unable to determine whether chance fluctuations within that category obscured trends in the three major professions-of-origin categories. For example, this “other” group was included in the chi-square analysis for professions-of-origin with mediation style (see Table 4.19, p. 156). This chi-square analysis showed that for the “other” professions category, the observed number and the expected number for the directive mediation category were the same. However, many fewer than expected by chance were in the mid-range category and many more than expected by chance were in the non-directive category. Even though, overall, the hypothesis for pro-fession-of-origin was supported by the data, these skewed results for the “other” professions category may have impeded the specific analyses for the social work, psychology and/or law profession-of-origin groupings.

A third, but related, problem came from the need to combine respondents from related fields into major categories. These fields may be related, but might not necessarily share the same value base or professional orientation. An example is the psychology profession-of-origin grouping. This grouping combined psychologists, counselors, counseling psychologists and educators. While intuitively these could be considered similar professions, there is literature to suggest that there may be differing world views both within any one of the component professions and among the component professions as a whole (see e.g., Cottone, 1991). There was no way of examining this question from the data collected. Thus it could not be determined which respondents within the psychology profession-of-origin grouping, if any, follow the traditional linear approach and which do not.

The law profession-of-origin grouping provides another example of a similar problem. A decision was made to combine all lawyers into one group, regardless of whether or not they also had a second field of practice or whether this second field overlapped with study’s other major professions-of-origin. However, there was no way of determining the actual professional identification of those reporting more than one field of practice. A similar problem also exists with the social work profession-of-origin grouping. While the study conceptualization allowed for the combining of social workers and family therapists because of their shared systemic world view (Becvar & Becvar, 1988; Gold, 1985), the need to include sociologists in that grouping was not anticipated. Once the need for a decision regarding grouping the sociologists was recognized, it was made based on the shared literature between social work and sociology. This does not mean that these two fields share the same value base.

A fourth and important limitation pertains to the construction of the study instrument. A desire to maintain consistency of design within the questionnaire and to control for social desirability in responses created another problem. As discussed in Chapter III (Study Methodology), due to the ipsative nature of three of the study scales, normal correlational methods that assume the independence of each of the scale items may not be appropriate. This is due to their possibly resulting in what would normally unacceptably low reliability measures, but might not actually be indicative of low internal consistency. Therefore, the results for Cronbach’s alpha for all inventories should be viewed with caution. Reliability quotients ranged from 0.44 to 0.81. As expected, the lowest alphas were for the forced choice items. The Interpersonal Style Inventory is in a true-false format and had higher reliability. As a result of these concerns, a certain amount of detail was sacrificed when the interval data was reduced to a categorical level. For research purposes, better use might have been made of items constructed differently. Nevertheless, the value in the present format of the scales as a teaching tool remains.

Finally, it would have been useful to have had access to a larger panel of experienced mediators to help with the screening of scale items as well as the ability to conduct a pre-test before the full scale mailing of the study questionnaire commenced.


This study was undertaken to help clarify the theory base of family mediation , to elucidate the areas of knowledge necessary for training of family mediators, contribute to improving that training, and help in the standardizing of family and divorce mediation practice. Further, it was anticipated that this research would strengthen the interdisciplinary relationships among social workers and other service professions that work in family and divorce cases, ultimately leading to improved services for clients.

Traditional social work methods are generally geared to helping clients cope with the affective component of divorce, rather than solely with concrete issues, such as property division and financial support (Brown, 1976; Gurman, 1981; Ahrons, 1983). Nevertheless, social work’s mission of facilitating client use of appropriate coping skills to deal with interpersonal and environmental issues and of increasing the client’s options within the larger society are consistent with those of mediation, in which the neutral mediator seeks to expand the range of options considered. As Professor Lon Fuller (1971) states, mediation offsets the modern tendency to assume that all social ordering must derive from some authority.

Specifically, this study was designed to explore the influence of the family mediator’s profession-of-origin on his or her preferred mediation style. The results of the study show that there is a definite and significant relationship between profession-of-origin and mediator style for the three professions-of-origin studied. Further, the predicted preferred category for social workers, which was confirmed by the data, was the mid-range mediation style – the optimal mediation category from a theoretical perspective. Clearly social workers are predisposed both by training and experience to provide a valuable service to those families with disputes requiring assistance for resolution. Unfortunately, social work has not retained its previous head start in this area, when it originally comprised the largest percentage of family mediators.

A 1983 survey found that an astonishing 75% of the respondents were social workers (Pearson, Ring & Milne). However, the current study had only 16.7% reporting social work as one of their professions-of-origin. The Academy of Family Mediators, conducting a separate survey of its total membership (N=3,400) at the same time this study was being conducted, received 799 responses. Out of these, only 17.1% reported social work as one of their professional backgrounds (Gray, 1997). Social work has clearly lost the early advantage it held, to help shape the direction this emerging field was taking.

However, as training and education in this area most likely move from the predominantly non-degree, non-university setting, into the university setting, social work has an opportunity to regain its influence in the field. Social work and family mediation are natural partners, sharing the same systemic world view and similar core values. As the family continues to undergo the types of changes outlined by Burgess (1994), social work as a profession must begin to more systematically address alternative ways, such as mediation, of resolving of family disputes, in a manner consistent with the recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of all persons and their right to self-determination in all arenas, including divorce.

Recommendations for practice based on the study’s conclusions include the need for the development of comprehensive and integrated training curricula which incorporate the core values and the theoretical underpinnings of both social work and family mediation, which build on the strengths brought to the field from all professions-of-origin, and which minimize the potentially divisive differences. In addition, there is a clear need for supervised mediation experience to help those coming from different backgrounds avoid the pitfalls that occur from inadequate socialization into the field. Social work can also provide the necessary knowledge and expertise in this area as well.


Most previous research in the area of family mediation has concentrated on client satisfaction and on “re-litigation” rates. Although there is a growing body of substantive literature on different styles of practice in family mediation, no empirical research had been conducted in this area. This study was an effort to close this gap. The information gathered through the present study shows the need for more research into the area of mediator style.

The mediator style scale developed by the researcher needs refinement and restructuring so that acceptable reliability levels can be obtained which would allow for interval level statistical treatment. In addition, observational studies would be useful, with the development of a reliable coding system for observed mediator style, combined with measures of client satisfaction, with settlement rates and with re-litigation rates for comparison with earlier studies in these areas.

In addition, it would be interesting to explore the concept of socialization further. From the chi-square analysis for socialization into mediation based on number of years mediating, it was found that the lower the reported number of years mediating, the higher the frequencies for the non-directive style and the greater the difference from the frequencies expected by chance. When then number of years mediating is high rather than low, the frequency of the directive mediating style is greater than expected by chance even though the absolute frequency is not higher than that for the other styles. Thus contrary to what was expected from the hypothesis, greater amounts of experience lead to a more directive style of mediating rather than to a more mid-range style. One area to explore would be if these trends remain the same in a population with larger numbers of newer mediators, i.e., with a group less homogeneous as to experience. Further, greater diversity (less homogeneity) in terms of mediator ethnicity and age would be fruitful study populations as well.

Another area of interest regarding socialization pertains to the length of time or number of years spent in the profession-of-origin prior to the person’s being trained as a mediator. There might well be differences in mediator style based on the presumed strength of socialization into the profession-of-origin based on this factor.


A la Matarazzo (1980), one could make the following statement about mediation: Family Mediation is the aggregate of the specific educational, scientific and professional contributions of the disciplines of social work, sociology (including conflict resolution), psychology, family (systems-based) therapy, counseling, education, and law focused on the recognition and acknowledgment of the differences that lead to disputes; and the identification and utilization of the avenues for mutual gain and the promotion and facilitation of collaborative problem-solving.

Nonetheless, there has emerged a division in the field of divorce mediation; the one between mediators who are lawyers and those who are not – the “non-lawyer” mediators (Black & Joffe, 1978; VanderKooi & Pearson, 1983; Folberg & Taylor, 1984; Milne & Folberg, 1988). It is not surprising that there is a basic conflict between mediation practitioners from the different professions-of-origin concerning what is and is not appropriate mediation practice (Buck, 1998; Neilson, 1994; Milne & Folberg, 1988; Grebe, 1988b; Maute, 1991). However, this labeling of mediators based solely on profession-of-origin is an unfortunate development, as it adds to the territorial competitiveness and divisiveness between the various profession-of-origin groups (Milne & Folberg, 1988). Following the admonition of Ivey (p. 28, 1989, cited in Spruill & Fong, 1990), who advocates for the recognition of a unique mediator identity and within that identity for a unique family mediator identity, “…we must resist the temptation of claiming, ‘My profession is better than your profession.”

Still, it must be recognized that since divorce mediation has not yet developed into a distinct discipline with an academic tradition of its own, most mediators will approach the field from the orientation of their previous professions (Folberg & Taylor, 1984; Girdner, 1986; Milne & Folberg, 1988). Practitioners from law, social work and other mental health professions will bring their respective professional perspectives on conflict resolution to the practice of mediation (Neilson, 1994). It also must be recognized that mediators from the various professions-of-origin have undergone different types of training in those professions, operated under different standards of practice, and applied principles of practice from their professional backgrounds in different ways. Lawyers base their practice on precedent drawn from case law and on the relevant statutes (Wrightman, et. al., 1998). Social workers base their practice on a holistic person-situation perspective and draw from explanatory behavioral science theory and their own practice theory which informs their practice models. Other mental health professionals base their practice largely on psychological theory which may be either linear or systemic in its world view.

As early as 1984, Bernard, Folger, Weingarten & Zumeta stated that a critical analysis of ethical and value issues raised by third party mediation strategies would become crucial as more and more mediators carry their personal and professional orientation (and biases) regarding divorce and the settlement process into mediation and thereby influence the nature of settlements reached. Ury, Brett & Goldberg (1993) maintained that there are three main approaches to resolving disputes: rights-based, power-based and interest-based. Legislatures, for example approach disputes based on the wielding of power (Deutsch, 1973). The law has traditionally approached the resolution of disputes from a rights-based perspective (Lande, 1984; Micka, 1989; Marlow, 1985; Marlow, 1994). The mental health professions, particularly social work, have approached human interactions of all kinds, including disputes, from a values perspective. The values perspective is most similar to the interest-based approach of mediation (Fisher & Ury, 1981; Rogers & Associates, 1990; Parsons, 1991) rather than to the (legal) rights-based or power-based types of conflict resolution.

The results of this study have demonstrated that there are differences in the perspectives brought to the practice of mediation by those from the different professions-of-origin. The practice of mediation would be best served if those differences were acknowledged along with the understanding that what is appropriate in any one profession-of-origin does not necessarily translate to the new arena. Mediation would also be better served if the necessary elements for good mediation practice were fostered in all who endeavor to enter this emerging field. This study has sought to identify some of those elements from the existing theoretical and empirical literature and to explore the application of these in actual practice.


Sarah Childs Grebe, DSW

Sarah Childs-Grebe, was an authority on conflict resolution and divorce mediation, died Dec. 3, 2004 at the Washington Home. She had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. From 1982 until retiring in the late 1990s, Dr. Childs-Grebe had a private mediation practice in Kensington. She counseled families… MORE >

Featured Members

View all

Read these next


ODR and Online Reputation Systems

This chapter is from "Online Dispute Resolution Theory and Practice," Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Ethan Katsh & Daniel Rainey ( Eds.), published, sold and distributed by Eleven International Publishing. The Hague,...

By Colin Rule, Harpreet Singh

[PODCAST] Demystifying Mediation Myths in the Construction Industry

In this podcast, JAMS neutrals Patricia Thompson and Bruce Edwards leverage their alternative dispute resolution (ADR) experience within the construction industry to discuss and demystify the myths pertaining to the...

By Bruce Edwards, Patricia Thompson

Preparing For Mediation

Use the mediator to your advantage Many cases are resolved before trial simply by counsel getting together and negotiating a resolution. This is certainly advantageous to everyone involved. However, direct...

By Darrell Lewis