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Condensed process, long-term effects: mediating cross-border family cases

Cross-Border Family Mediation (CBFM) Training in Berlin, 4-10 September 2022

At the MiKK Training, Berlin, 2022 September

(Training provided by MiKK - International Mediation Centre for Family Conflict and Child Abduction,

So, Jakob and Carmen were unsure what should come next.

Or - to be more precise - Jakob and Carmen were absolutely convinced about what should come next:

  • their 6 year old son, Peter, should immediately return home to Stockholm with Jakob and have a wonderful life, surrounded by the love of Grandma Ida and Grandpa Lars, ideally with Carmen joining them (if not, bad luck, from primary caregiver, she’ll smoothly transition to be a “15 minutes a day Face-time parent”),

  • the apple of their eye Peter should from Sunday to Monday get 100% comfortable with his new life in Madrid, in the loving presence of his Mum, Grandma Lucía and Grandpa Jorge… ideally gradually forgetting his best friend Liam from the Stockholm International School and how much he loved deer hunting with Jakob on Thursday afternoons – they will of course still meet, some days during every school holiday.

It's not that hard to comprehend that these two scenarios cannot and will not work parallelly – a decision must be taken.

If Jakob and Carmen are not able to take it, strange men and women in dark gowns (aka judges) surely will. And they will of course have the best interest of the child in mind, but for them, it will still remain “the child”, or so to say “a” child. However Jakob and Carmen have the opportunity to be the experts in the question that matters most to them: Peter, and work to reach an agreement that could be satisfying to all involved parties – from Grandpa Jorge to Grandma Ida, not forgetting the protagonists themselves.

Will they take this opportunity? Will they try mediation? Do they at least know that they have this possibility? Will they be able to have the professional help that they need in such a stressful and potentially highly conflictual situation?

If it is up to MiKK and their excellent advanced-level Cross-Border Family Mediation (CBFM) training (lead by Ischtar Khalaf-Newsome and Christoph C. Paul, pioneers of this field) at which I have just had the honour to participate, they surely will.

As we learned, with the entry into force of the Brussels IIa (Recast) Regulation this August 2022, judges will be required to consider referring parents to mediation in all cases in which an international child abduction has occurred. Something that I was genuinely happy to hear (directly from an experienced Hague-case judge, judge Ulrike Opitz, guest trainer at MiKK, thank you :) ), they actually do!

In my opinion, having judges (and may I also add: national central authorities) dedicated to the amicable resolution of such high-conflict cases - having them on-board - just makes or breaks the future of (CBF) mediation. If Jakob and Carmen are reminded (encouraged, even) by judge Opitz (or her counterpart in Madrid) to try mediation, they are already one step closer to a potential solution, working for both of them and for Peter.

As I mentioned in my blog-entry last December (summarizing my experiences of a mediation training organized by the European Law Academy), these kinds of international family mediations are quite specific in the sense that - due to the legal framework and the tight deadlines of the so-called “Hague-cases” - they must happen expeditiously.

They would typically take place in a condensed, 2 to 3 days long format, ideally in person, but of course the potential advantages of online mediation should also be considered (e.g.: cost-effective, global). We were also advised to follow a specific model when trying to set up the ideal co-mediation team (so a team of 2 mediators): we were encouraged to mirror the languages/cultures/genders of the parents and to choose mediators with mixed backgrounds of law or psycho-social studies. (The so called “4B model” - I plan to dedicate a separate blog entry to this complex issue which raised many – at first maybe rather critical – questions on my part, stay tuned. :) )

The mediators have 2-3 days during which the parties should ideally come to an agreement. Not quite obvious for a mediator who is traditionally trained as a “transformative” mediator (me, for example :) ) – as we all know, change takes time, changes of perspectives take time, communication improves little by little, focus shifts, dialogue is restored, parties gradually start to hear each other. We still hope to achieve some of these goals in CBFM as well, but we also have to accept the realities and proved advantages of a more directive (facilitative) mediation style in these cases. “Jakob, deer hunting might not happen every Thursday, how about discussing the arrangements regarding school holidays?”

What more, as mentioned before, children are by default at the heart of these cases: they are the ones that have been abducted and that parents fight over – yet, they are the ones they sometimes seem to forget to take into account.

A whole day of our training was dedicated to hearing the “voice of the child” in mediation thanks to the wonderful cooperation of Dr. Lesley Allport, guest trainer of MiKK and Susana Borges Gomes, child psychologist.

Could maybe an empty chair remind Jakob and Carmen that they should think of Peter? (Could a plant symbolize him? :) ) Should the parents be educated about the effects of their dispute/agreement on Peter? Should they be the ones talking to Peter? Should a trained psychologist speak with him? Could the mediators do it? If yes, how? Gripping questions that were all discussed in-depth – an eye-opening experience for me who had the chance to take part in a former Working Group that dealt with these exact same issues back in 2016/17 and was therefore a bit biased against any intervention by the mediator.

Our group consisted of 20 trained and experienced family mediators coming from 17 different countries, altogether speaking… I cannot even count how many languages. We all felt really grateful to be able to have wonderful discussions and synergies in this team, in which, despite the “so many languages”, the different genders, the different professional backgrounds and the different cultural backgrounds, communication and cooperation and having fun seemed so natural and easy – as I always say, being a mediator is a attitude to life, not only a profession. :)

Participants and Trainers of the MiKK CBFM 2022 September Training (Berlin)

MiKK is outstanding in what it does: delivering a high-quality advanced-level training for us, mediators. We learned all that is essential for the certified Cross-Border Family Mediators of the world: the setting, the legal background, the cultural and intercultural caveats, the steps to be followed, the know-how and the tips and tricks – to be able to put all of this knowledge into practice …

If only they were fortunate enough to get the help of judges and central authorities everywhere around the globe, encouraging the Jakobs and Carmens of the world to have recourse to mediation, and more specifically to consider taking advantage of MiKK’s experience and its world-wide network of professionals!

The Peters of the world would be thankful for it.

Berlin, 2022 September

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