Supporting Negotiations between Adult Children and Their Parents – the Child Support Eligibility Mediation Project

divorce-with-adult-childrenPart 1

Mediation has become a common method of resolving family disputes arising out of separation and divorce such as who should pay support for the families’ children.  In fact, in British Columbia, the Family Law Act strongly recommends using “out of court” resolution processes including mediation.

But what about disagreements about support for adult children (19 and older) of parents who have divorced long ago?  It is not common these days for adult children to still be “dependent” on their parents while they attend post-secondary education, seek other kinds of career training or if they suffer from an ongoing disability.  Traditionally, if a negotiated agreement was not possible, the only way to resolve these disputes was to seek a court order with all its associated cost, delay, complexity and stress.

Mediators Shelina Neallani and Yuki Matsuno knew there had to be a better way.  They had seen how families benefited from the effective use of mediation in other family disputes and wanted to test how mediation would work in these situations.  Mediate BC, the Director of Maintenance Enforcement (DOME) and the BC Family Maintenance Enforcement Program collaborated to support this initiative and the Law Foundation of BC agreed to provide funding for a pilot project with the following goals:

  •          Increasing access to justice for BC families
  •          Meaningful empirical research re:
    • The effectiveness of various mediator techniques in this milieu
    • How the adult child could participate effectively
    • How to engage technology tools
  •          Improving mediator professional development opportunities

The pilot was called the “Child Support Eligibility Mediation Project”, which admittedly doesn’t quite capture all of the aspects and nuances of this innovative approach.

The mediation model for the project was carefully designed in order to address the complex project goals and issues.  It was based on a model involving pre-mediation meetings and a four-stage mediation process (introduction and welcome including signing the Agreement to Mediate, determining the issues and agenda setting, discussion of issues and interest and building agreement).

Very skilled and experienced mediators were selected to participate in the project:  Mary Mouat QC, Arlene Henry QC., Patricia Lane, Michael Lomax, Shelina Neallani and Yuki Matsuno.  They all participated with great dedication, creativity and perseverance. 

Most of the participating families were referred through the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program.  That means that most already had either an agreement or a court order in place relating to child support and there was a need to consider a revision of that existing arrangement to meet the current needs of the adult child.  In about one third of the cases, the parents had not spoken to each other for many years and in about half of the cases the parents were still actively angry with each other.  This was an understandably challenging population to work with.

The project concluded in 2013 and Mediate BC published a detailed evaluation report in August 2013.

The most basic finding was that mediation worked extremely well for these families.  29 cases were mediated.  66% of the families reached agreement on ongoing child support and, of those, the post-mediation compliance rate was 91%.  Settlement rates for disputes about arrears averaged 72% and for disputes about support of other children 75%.  For those cases that did not result in a complete settlement, the parties rated the extent of progress made during the mediation at 4.1 out of 6 on average. 

The project concluded that mediation offers an opportunity in this unique context for the family to come up with creative, culturally responsive solutions that meet the needs, desires and values of the parents and the adult child.  Mediation has tremendous potential to address conflict effectively for families and to alleviate pressures on the court system.

The next few Mediate BC Blog posts will focus on selected key aspects of the project:

  •          What kind of mediation interventions worked best
  •          The views of the adult child and the use of an “Education Plan”
  •          The effectiveness of “distance mediation” (technology-assisted mediation)
  •          The mystery of relatively low uptake for project mediations

Stay tuned!

Kari D. Boyle

Executive Director, Mediate BC Society

Photo courtesy of www.tipsofdivorce.com

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