Omni-Partiality and Power Imbalances in Mediation

Omni-Partiality and Power Imbalances in Mediation by Susan Ingram

{2:30 minutes to read}

For over a decade I’ve had a practice that focuses exclusively on divorce and family mediation. Much of the training when I first started my practice emphasized the importance of the mediator being neutral and impartial. I certainly agreed that the mediator should not “take sides” in a mediation or “favor” one party over the other. But I also felt that there was a sense of aloofness implied in those two words that did not accurately or fully describe what I saw my role to be.

OMNI-PARTIALITY

Several years ago, I was delighted to come across the term “omni-partial” in the writings of Kenneth Cloke, a highly regarded mediator who has written several books on mediation. As he described it, the omni-partial mediator is partial towards ALL participants – that is, on ALL sides at the same time. I realized that’s what I had been doing, and I was very grateful to finally have a word that went to the heart of what I saw as my role with my clients.

POWER IMBALANCES

I believe the most important aspect of omni-partiality is how it informs the mediator in handling power imbalances between the parties. These power imbalances can crop up at any time during a mediation. They may be overt or less obvious.

For example, if one party is intimidating or overly assertive towards the other, I’ll take steps to ensure that the weaker party’s voice is heard. Or if one person is less knowledgeable about certain subjects, such as financial matters, I’ll make sure that person sufficiently understands the information that is being reviewed and discussed.

In my capacity as their mediator, and also as the attorney who will be drafting their agreement, I have an obligation to assure that both parties have made knowledgeable and informed decisions. This can only occur when power imbalances have been adequately addressed.

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