Mediation Goes to Bermuda

Two mediators of the Barrie Mediation Centre have just returned from a week of training Bermudians who are interested in diverting warring spouses form the court system. The support of the judiciary and others involved with separating couples will be needed to move away from the well-entrenched adversarial attitude of Bermudians’ but hopefully the week of mediation training presented by Lisa Ems-Wice and Claudette Reimer and others will provide a good basis for change. The following article describes the challenges faced:

A legal initiative is set to “remove some of the poison in family breakdowns”, according to the Governor, George Fergusson.

Yesterday morning, the Integrated Family Court began its accredited family law mediation training in Hamilton’s Dame Lois Browne-Evans Building.

During the five-day course, mediators representing various professions from law enforcement to social services will be taught “alternative dispute resolution” by visiting experts from Canada, including conflict analysis and the psychological effects of separation and child support. The initiative encourages warring families to settle their differences constructively and respectfully, thereby improving relations, promoting compliance and saving public resources.

“The mediation approach can provide a soft landing when, sadly, as it so often does, the parental unit breaks down,” Mr Fergusson said.

While optimistic, Puisne Judge Norma Wade-Miller claimed a daunting challenge lay in changing “centuries of ingrained attitudes about how we tackle family disputes in Bermuda”. She said: “Old attitudes and laws, together with an adversarial system, have helped encourage an unconstructive approach to family disputes.

“There are cases where a father declares he will do everything he can to avoid paying child support, and cases where a mother declares she will take the father for everything he has.”

Mrs Wade-Miller insisted that it was essential to quash notions of guilt, innocence, winners and losers in family fallouts.

“Everyone loses when we favour other priorities and do not intend to salvage what we can of broken relationships,” she added.

Senior magistrate Juan Wolffe called the implementation of the programme “a new day”, while Chief Justice Ian Kawaley said that he hoped mediation would become a “restorative tool which promotes healing rather than fracturing”.

Lisa Emms-Wice, from the Ontario Association for Family Mediators, is one of three Canadian mediators helping to launch the initiative in Bermuda.

“We’re very clear at telling aggrieved parties that there is nothing wrong with a position or an opinion,” she told The Royal Gazette.

“But how can we get them to understand each others’ positions and opinions, and how far apart are they? Often the most minor thing can cause such controversy; it’s about how we can settle that little piece.”

Sheelagh Cooper, founder and chairwoman of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, called the launch of family law mediation training “a tremendous breakthrough” for Bermuda.

“We’ve been the sole provider of mediation services for 15 years,” she said. “This has institutionalised the process.

“I’m very happy because it makes such a difference to the lives of the children whose parents are in dispute.”

View the article here: Royal Gazette