Summary of "The Handbook of Family Dispute Resolution"

Summary of

The Handbook of Family Dispute Resolution

By Alison Taylor

Summary written by Sabra Anckner, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Taylor, Alison, 2002. The Handbook of Family Dispute Resolution. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

Alison Taylor's The Handbook of Family Dispute Resolution is intended as a guide for people in the family mediation and ADR fields, as well as those that may become involved in disputes, such as lawyers and social workers. It is very thorough, covering not just the different types of conflicts that arise, but also the different approaches taken by family mediators and an overview of the theoretical knowledge necessary for a person in this field.

The book is divided into three parts, with the first two being the foundations for the third. Part One, "Practical Theory," attempts to give the background information and theory needed for successful work in family mediation. Part Two deals with specific issues that come up in family mediation, but are not seen in other kinds of mediation work, such as drug abuse and domestic violence. It also covers different cultural backgrounds and the complexity of family mediation. In Part Three, Taylor covers some of the prominent types of familial conflict dealt with by mediators, including marriage disputes, divorce and custody issues, the developing use of mediation for parent-teenage conflict, and issues raised when someone is ill or disabled, as well as the difficult issue of elder care. The last part also includes case examples, and offers the author's own approach to mediation, although she does cover different models in Part One.

The first chapter, "Understanding Family Dynamics," encourages a systemic approach to families; the mediator should look at the family as a whole entity, not as individual people with different issues and concerns. Discussed are issues such as attachment, differentiation, resilience and codependency. Included is a helpful chart showing the ways different members of a family are likely to communicate. According to the author, the four key issues a family mediator must know to effectively mediate a family dispute, are: family law, mediation and conflict resolution theory, family, adult and child development, and information about the specific dispute.

Chapter Two, "Understanding Family Conflict," begins with "the multiple levels of family conflicts." It includes a synopsis of theories relating to family conflict. Also dealt with is the difference between family crisis and family conflict, an important distinction for the mediator. An important section on how families fight covers anger, indignation and aggression. Discussed are terms familiar to ADR practitioners, such as negotiating within mediation and face-saving.

Chapter Three, "Family Mediation Models and Approaches," deals almost exclusively with theory. Model concepts covered are: procedural, therapeutic, transformative, and narrative mediation, as well as general information such as the importance of neutrality. "Family Mediation Skills and Techniques," Chapter Four, approaches the more practical side of mediation. For instance, a list of questions for a practitioner to ask or find out about the family members is included, such as "Who contacted whom about getting mediation started, and who is paying for it?" (p. 149) Other key topics in this chapter are: shaping client sessions for effectiveness, mediating with multiple family members, caucusing, power balancing and transforming impasses.

Part Two begins with Chapter Five, "Special Case Issues." It deals with issues that arise in family mediation that require specific, more advanced knowledge. These are domestic violence, child abuse, mental illness, and substance abuse. Descriptions of typical patterns of domestic violence, and screening techniques to determine whether a situation can benefit from mediation are included. The legal and ethical issues of reporting child abuse issues are discussed, with recommendations for mediators.

Chapter Six offers more thorough coverage of "Ethics and Standards, Confidentiality and Privilege." The five basic principles of ethics are included: do no harm; try to do good; be fair and promote justice; client self-determination; fidelity to promises. Standards for lawyers and social workers are covered, and compared to those for fields that do not have the same legal rights and responsibilities. This chapter also includes several lists of key questions to ask in regards to confidentiality, privilege, and ethical dilemmas.

"Cultural Issues in Family Mediation" is the topic of Chapter Seven. The author stresses the importance of gender, sexual, class and racial identity in changing the way a family will respond to mediation. Other topics include assessment of cultural factors; identity, adaptation and assimilation; and the mediator's cultural perspectives. The author then switches tones, and discusses specific cultures and different types of families, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, multiracial, and gay and lesbian families. She also includes case studies for each of these types of families. In the eighth chapter, Interfacing with Other Professionals and Parties, the author says that family mediators "do not offer their services in a vacuum." (273) She covers interactions with children, advocates, attorneys, and therapists.

Part Three begins coverage of specific situations that many family mediators will address. Chapter Nine is on Marital Mediation, Conciliation, and Prenuptial Agreements. Conciliation is the process of "mediating the problems of staying together," as this chapter deals with couples who are beginning their marriage or are trying to save theirs. In Chapter Ten, the focus has changed to "Divorce Mediation." In these cases, the circumstances are usually more drastic, and the mediation is not always voluntary. The author differentiates between divorces involving children, and those that do not, as custody issues are typically the most severe problems in a divorce. The roles of the children in mediation are also covered. Couples that are not formally married, or those that are homosexual, are also discussed, as they pose different challenges. A model is included as an example.

In Chapter Eleven, "Parent-Teen Mediation," the focus shifts to one of the newer types of disputes family mediators are working in. Some of the many problems faced by teens and their parents are brought up, ranging from not following household rules to drug and alcohol use. Several specific programs are brought up, including a victim-offender youth program case example. The next chapter, Twelve -- "Adoption, Abuse and Placement" -- also deals with youth issues in the family. Topics covered include a list of when mediation is appropriate in abuse cases, and some common disputes in adoptions. Legal issues surrounding these disputes are covered, as they affect how and when a mediator can assist in a dispute.

At the opposite end of the life cycle are "Elder Care and Family Medical Concerns," Chapter Thirteen. The first thing covered here is what disputes can be mediated in these areas. According to the authors, they include crisis decision making, discrimination and access concerns, and financial responsibility. Topics in this chapter include: power issues in medical disputes concerning elders, mediating family medical issues, mediating adult guardianship, and several case examples.

At the end of the book are several appendices, comprised of tools mentioned elsewhere in the book, and a "Report of the Academy of Family Mediators Task Force on Spousal and Child Abuse." A thorough bibliography could certainly be helpful in researching some of the topics more thoroughly. This book is a great reference or beginner's text in understanding the dynamics of family mediation. The growing field will be benefited greatly by having this book as a resource, and also as a potential recruitment tool, as it is already being incorporated into some college mediation courses. Even those not in the field may find this book helpful in resolving some smaller disputes in their own home. This book should be on the shelf of every mediator, lawyer, or social worker who works with families in crisis.