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Review of Peter Salem and Kelly Browe Olson, Editors, Family Dispute Resolution: Process and Practice (2024)

Book available here from Oxford University Press

In 2004, Jay Folberg, Peter Salem and Ann Milne edited and published the book Divorce and Family Mediation: Models, Techniques and Applications (Guildford Press), filled with in-depth chapters on various issues in divorce and family mediation. I have used that book as a much appreciated text in my classes ever since — but I’ve been hoping for an update since some of the chapters are now out of date.

This year, Peter Salem and Kelly Browe Olson have fulfilled my wish and more with Family Dispute Resolution: Process and Practice, a 600 (!) page compendium of current topics in family ADR, and with an outstanding group of experts writing the chapters. What I so appreciated about the 2004 volume was how much depth of understanding it gave to each of the topic areas it covered. Happily, this is as true for the 2024 book. 

It was tempting to just review the book by listing the Table of Contents, and let it speak for itself. When I was granted that privilege I was blown away by the amazingly broad array of topics and level of expertise of the authors, many of whom are named below. The topics have been chosen carefully to cover the field and to introduce new dispute resolution methodologies. Impressively, most of the chapters are outstanding in their depth and breadth. This is a book that is useful both in what it covers and in specific topics that have been handled in depth. Let me give you some idea of what is covered.

Dispute Resolution Processes. Yes, mediation is covered, but as only one of many approaches. The first section is aptly titled Mediation, and it includes a history and overview of family mediation by Peter Salem and Bernard Mayer, plus two very helpful specialty topics, “Child Inclusive Practice in Mediation and Allied Contexts” by Jennifer McIntosh, and “A Mediation Model for Self-Represented Parties” by Susan Hansen, Casey Holtz, and Michael Dwyer.

The book then goes on to cover other family dispute resolution methodologies. Many are processes we are familiar with, including:

  • Parenting Coordination (Barbara Fidler and Annette T. Burns)
  • Custody Evaluation (here appropriately renamed Parenting Plan Evaluation) (Sol Rappaport), and
  • Parent Education (Irwin Sandler, Karey O’Hara, Sharlene Wolchik, and Peter Salem)

But the book also includes important concepts not as widely used here in the U.S. such as:

  • Early Neutral Evaluation (Kathleen McNamara)
  • Arbitration (Barbara Ann Atwood), and
  • Child Inclusive Practices (Jennifer McIntosh)

This section is a much needed and much appreciated update in our approach to family dispute resolution that hopefully will broaden our view of the field.

Current Topics. The book also addresses topics that are very current, timely and important, that were not covered 20 years ago. These include chapters on:

  • High Conflict Personalities
  • Substance Use Disorder
  • Issues of Culture and Family Dispute Resolution
  • Self-Represented Parties, and
  • Low Income Unmarried Families

All of these are issues faced regularly, so it is very helpful both for my students in class, and for practitioners, to have a volume that puts this information all in one place. As a practitioner, I am especially appreciative of these chapters as they are on areas that are commonly encountered but rarely written about. (The chapter on helping low-income, unmarried parents with parenting time, is a good example, and is notably authored by Jessica Pearson and Nancy Thoennes, who began researching and writing about family mediation in the early 1980s!)

Updates. As I mentioned above, there are topics that were covered in the earlier book that needed updating, and that is done beautifully in this volume. Allan Barsky updates his 2004 chapter on:

  • Gender and Sexual Orientation

in a particularly helpful way. And I appreciate that there are two chapters on Online Dispute Resolution:

  • “Online Dispute Resolution for Family Disputes” by Colin Rule
  • and “Implementing ODR in Family Court,” by Jennifer Shack and Donna Shetowsky.

This second examines ODR as it has been actually implemented in courts here in the U.S.

Additionally, the chapters on innovative approaches in court-related family dispute resolution, featuring authors Andrew Schepard, Marsha Kline Pruett, Michael Saini, Peter Salem, and others is a very welcome section for the court sector.

Critical Challenges. Another section that is extremely timely as well as excellent is Critical Challenges in Family Dispute Resolution. Both the depth of discussion in these areas and the level of expertise of the authors is awesome. Again it is really helpful to have them available in the same place. It includes the following chapters:

  • “Managing Intractable Conflict in Shared Parenting Arrangements” by Robin Deutsch and Matthew Sullivan
  • “Intimate Partner Violence and Family Dispute Resolution” by Kelly Browe Olson
  • “Working with Clients with High Conflict Personalities” by Bill Eddy, and
  • “Substance Use Disorders: A Primer for Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners” by Stephanie Tabashneck, Leslie Drozd, and Jeffrey Soilson.

Especially helpful. There are so many chapters in this book that I am excited about, but I have to say that I found the section on Culture Diversity and Family Dispute Resolution to be especially helpful in giving practitioners a basis and vocabulary to work with. The chapters in this section include:

  • “Integrating Issues of Culture in Family Dispute Resolution” by Gitu Bhatia
  • ”Gender and Sexual Orientation” by Allan Edward Barsky, and  
  • “Dispute Resolution Challenges for Families with a Child with Special Needs” by Robert Kaufman and Daniel Pickar

These are areas that we are challenged to become familiar with and welcome into our practices. And they are difficult areas to write about at this level of practicality. These authors have given us practical tips that we can use out of the box. It’s hard to sum up a book with this level of breadth and depth, except to appreciate the vision of the editors and the work that has gone into it from both the authors and the editors. This is a welcome and needed addition to our field of Family Mediation and Dispute Resolution. 

Thank you to all!

By the way, I’m keeping my copy of the 2004 book*. There are gems in that book that are not out of date and have not been replicated. I commend that book to you as well. But I have no doubt that this book** will be a 20+-year keeper as well.

*Jay Folberg, Peter Salem and Ann Milne editors, Divorce and Family Mediation: Models, Techniques and Applications (Guildford Press, 2004)

** Peter Salem and Kelly Browe Olson, editors, Family Dispute Resolution: Process and Practice (Oxford University Press, 2024)


Zena Zumeta

Zena D. Zumeta is president of the Mediation Training & Consultation Institute and The Collaborative Workplace. She received her Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School. Ms. Zumeta is a former board member and president of the Academy of Family Mediators, (now merged into the Association for Conflict… MORE >

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