When a legal dispute arises out of a failed relationship, the conflict is rarely purely legal. In cases involving an employer/employee dispute, or in cases of divorce or probate, the legal conflict is frequently driven by underlying emotion. If ignored, grief or anger, betrayal, fear, resentment, and hurt feelings can lead to impasse and prevent resolution of the legal issues. These types of cases are great candidates for co-mediation, also known as integrative mediation. In an integrative mediation process, attorneys and mental health professionals work together to mediate a dispute.

It is a rare attorney/mediator who feels entirely capable or comfortable working with the intensity of emotion that can arise where there is a high level of conflict. In such a mediation, it is not unusual for clients to burst into tears, rage, behave erratically, or persistently cling to what would appear to be totally irrational positions. Knowledge of the law does not present an obvious way to assist these clients to resolve their conflict, and there are occasions when every mediator experiences the struggle of keeping a difficult case on track.

Co-mediators bring complementary professional skill sets into the process, creating the means and opportunity for all aspects of a dispute to be examined and addressed at the same time. Together, these complementary psychological and legal skill sets can be a very effective means for resolving high conflict disputes. Marin County Superior Court offers its own version of integrative mediation with its highly successful Interdisciplinary Settlement Conferences (ISC), voluntary settlement conferences where litigants can attempt to resolve custody disputes with the assistance of volunteer mental health professionals and attorneys.

In an integrative mediation, the attorney is primarily responsible for providing legal information, ensuring that all necessary legal issues are addressed. The mental health professional is primarily responsible for facilitating communication between the parties and providing emotional support, as well as educating the clients about relevant psychological information. Even though the professionals are grounded in their own areas of expertise, they are trained to work together in as seamless a manner as possible. Occasionally, other professionals who have been trained in the process may be brought in as well. For example, a financial analyst or child specialist might participate in a divorce case. Because the underlying emotional aspects of the dispute are identified and addressed, parties tend to reach resolution more quickly, with fewer sessions needed overall. Additionally, parties may improve communication skills and gain a deeper understanding of the other, which can reduce further conflict down the road.

Integrative mediation operates on the premise that all legal disputes are human problems as well as legal ones, and recognizes that the best way to resolve such disputes is to disentangle their psychological and emotional, as well as their legal and financial facets. In the Bay Area, a number of professionals are offering integrative mediation services. Click on button below for more information about this process and about available trainings.