Joanne Burnett of Family Mediation Station
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Joanne Burnett of Family Mediation Station

Q: What is your position, and experience?

A: I am Mediation Support Specialist.

My qualifications include: Bachelor of Social Work, Masters of Forensic Mental Health, Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, Accredited Family Violence Social Worker, and I am currently undertaking a Higher Research degree in Family law Mediation and Social Work with Southern Cross University.

My experience includes 21 years of counselling experience, 12 years in private counselling practice with victims of crime, adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, family violence, child protection, mental health, drug and alcohol, elder abuse and aged care, relationship issues, parenting issues.

Q. What is the official role of a mediation support specialist and why is that important during a divorce?

A. I assess separating couples (separately) for any emotional and psychological barriers that may get in the way of negotiating their mediation and make recommendations for attending mediation.

Barriers or issues that may be identified are:

  • grief and loss,
  • conflict over children and relationship issues,
  • blaming and arguments that may be sticking points in mediation,
  • identifying where there may be mental health or drug and alcohol issues that could affect the progress of negotiations,
  • controlling relationships that make it difficult to negotiate in mediation
  • identifying relationship violence and make referrals to services.

It is important to identify and help clients work through their non-legal issues before mediation sessions, as the Family Mediation Team need to tailor the most optimal mediation process for the parties to achieve the best negotiating forum for their agreement.

Q. Is there a specific role that mediation support specialists play that cannot be achieved through regular legal consultations?

A. Yes, the screening and assessment in a confidential session that is focused on psychological and emotional issues, assessment of the family relationships, mental health, grief and loss and all of the non-legal things that get in the way of achieving an outcome in mediation.

There is overwhelming evidence in research of the need to assess people for their “emotional readiness” and non-legal issues to support them in their mediation process that increases the likelihood of sustainable, safe and fair agreements.

Q. Are there any key areas in which you often see clients struggle to come to an agreement on?

A. Yes, usually where one of the clients is reluctant or angry about the end of the relationship. This is a common key issue that affects how quickly people can separate, another is children’s arrangements, which is also a key area, and reaching a fair financial agreement can often be held up by the relationship and parenting issues rather than legal issues.

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