Date of Award

1-1-2003

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Associate Professor Alfred Allan

Abstract

The general aim of this research was to explore issues regarding mediation in family law about which there appears to be uncertainty. Study I investigated: (a) what stakeholders (practitioners and separated spouses) believe the aims of mediation should be; (b) what they believe are the effects of the separation factors, that is, perceived mutuality (whether the decision to separate was made by one or both spouses), perceived status (whether spouses view themselves as Ieavers, lefts or neither), and the attribution and strength of blaming someone for the decision to separate on attitudes towards engaging in mediation; and (c) stakeholders' views of the importance of the attitudinal factors (i.e. hope, expectation and commitment) for reaching agreement. The attitudinal factors were derived from Janis and Mann's (1977) theory of decision making. Study 2 investigated the operation of the separation and attitudinal factors in separated spouses attending mediation and the influence of specific biographical variables on these factors. The biographical variables were duration of separation, duration of marriage, gender and referral type. In Study I, 67 stakeholders (42 practitioners and 25 separated spouses) were of the opinion that spouses learning techniques to be able to resolve future disagreements should be the most important aim of the four aims of mediation suggested to them. Currently, the Family Law Act 1975 does not recognise this aim, though the finding is consistent with contemporary views of what the aim of mediation should be. Stakeholders also agreed that the separation factors substantially affect attitudes towards engagement in mediation and that the attitudinal factors are very important for reaching agreement. These findings are consistent with theories that suggest the separation factors influence engagement in mediation (Brown, 1985; Emery, 1994) and that the attitudinal factors are important for reaching agreement (Weitzman & Weitzman, 2000). In Study 2, 315 separated spouses (160 females, 155 males) attending court ordered (n = 150) and voluntary (n = 135) mediation responded to a questionnaire that sampled their biographical variables and the separation and attitudinal factors. Small significant χ2 measures (p < .001) revealed that the separation factors were associated. Specifically, when separated spouses perceived the decision to separate was non- mutual, they also were likely to perceive themselves as left or leavers. Those in the non-mutual, left group were more likely to blame and the majority of these were males. Analysis of a moderate significant Kendall rank correlation coefficient (p < .001) for the association between hope and commitment and weak/negligible associations between these factors and expectation revealed that separated spouses reported high levels of hope and commitment hut did not necessarily expect to reach agreement. Separated spouses who were court ordered were more likely to blame intensely (r = .24, p < .01), were less committed (w = .14, p < .001) and less expecting (w = .43, p < .001) to reach agreement than those who attended voluntarily. Expectation of reaching agreement was highest within 6 months of the decision to separate, while strength of blame for the decision to separate was most intense in those who were court ordered and those attending mediation within 6 months of the decision to separate. Implications of the findings for policy makers, assessment of separated spouses' readiness to engage in mediation and theory to guide mediation practice are discussed.

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