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Mediation, Facilitation, and Parental Coordination

Exploring Alternative Dispute Resolution in South African Family Law: Mediation, Facilitation, and Parental Coordination.


In the realm of family law, the complexities of disputes can often take a toll on all parties involved, particularly children. As such, the South African legal system increasingly embraces Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods, namely mediation, facilitation, and parental coordination. These options offer more amicable, efficient, and cost-effective solutions. These approaches not only aim to resolve conflicts but also to foster a cooperative environment that prioritizes the best interests of the children and maintains familial harmony.


What is mediation in the context of family law in South Africa and how does it differ from facilitation?


Mediation is a voluntary process where an accredited and trained neutral third-party assists divorcing or separating couples in resolving disputes related to their separation, such as childcare and contact disputes, maintenance, and division of assets, through facilitated negotiations.

While both mediation and facilitation involve an accredited and trained neutral third party assisting in resolving disputes, mediation typically focuses on helping parties reach a mutually acceptable agreement. Therefore, the parties must find common ground. A mediator will not enforce parties finding common ground.

Facilitation involves a broader range of assistance, including providing information and guidance, interviews with relevant parties or experts. A facilitator also has the power to issue directives that are binding on parties unless overturned by a Court Order where parties are unable to find common ground on issues.


What is parental co-ordination, and when is it used?


Parental co-ordination is a process where a trained professional, known as a parental coordinator, assists parents in implementing and adhering to an already agreed upon  parenting plan, resolving disputes, and improving communication regarding co-parenting arrangements, particularly in high-conflict situations. A parental co-ordinator is usually a family lawyer, social worker or psychologist with at least 10 years’ experience conversant with working with families in high conflict situations.


Is participation in mediation, facilitation, or parental co-ordination mandatory, and who is legible to serve as the neutral third party facilitating these sessions?


Participation in these processes is typically voluntary, although it may be encouraged or ordered by the Court in certain cases to facilitate the resolution of disputes and promote the best interests of any children involved. Both the Children’s Act as well as Rule 41A of the High Court Rules of makes mediation compulsory before reaching out to a Court for further assistance by way of litigation in the absence of a resolution between parties.

Mediators, facilitators, and parental coordinators are trained and accredited professionals with expertise in conflict resolution, family law, or psychology. They must adhere to professional standards and ethics.

When choosing a mediator, facilitator or parental coordinator you are entitled to know if they are accredited and through which alternative dispute resolution facility, they retain accreditation. In family law disputes accredited professionals include, inter alia, attorneys, advocates, social workers, psychologist as well as the office of the Family Advocate.


What are the benefits of participating in mediation, facilitation, or parental co-ordination and how long do these processes typically take?


These processes offer parties an opportunity to resolve disputes amicably, maintain control over the outcome, and avoid massive legal costs associated with litigation. It is a speedy process and avoids delays and protracted litigation. It also avoids the adversarial nature of litigation. It also promotes cooperation and communication between parties, which can be beneficial, especially in ongoing co-parenting relationships.

The duration of these processes varies depending on the complexity of the issues involved and the willingness of the parties to cooperate. Some cases may be resolved in a few sessions, while others may require more time. A less complex matter with parties cooperating will typically take not more than three sessions of two hours each at a time.


Is the outcome of mediation, facilitation, or parental co-ordination legally binding in South Africa, and what happens if the parties cannot reach agreement?


The outcome of these processes is typically embodied in a written agreement signed by the parties. While these agreements may be submitted to the Court for approval and incorporation into a Court Order. It is a written contract signed and legally binding between the parties upon signature despite not being made a Court Order. It is however advisable to have the terms of such an agreement incorporated into a court order.

If parties are unable to reach an agreement through these processes, the mediation will be declared unsuccessful, and a certificate will be issued to this effect by the mediator. In the case of a Facilitator and parental coordinator they may issue a binding directive that can only be overturned by a Court or by agreement between the parties. Therefore, in all three instances an unsuccessful outcome leaves parties with the option to pursue litigation and have the court resolve the unresolved disputed issues.


How confidential are mediation, facilitation, and parental co-ordination proceedings and are there any circumstances where these processes are inappropriate?


Confidentiality is an essential aspect of these processes, but discussions that occur during mediation, facilitation, or parental co-ordination are typically not confidential to any subsequent court proceedings, unless specially agreed by the parties prior to commencement of the process.

Alternative Dispute Resolution processes are not always suitable in cases involving domestic violence, substance abuse, or other situations where one party is unable or unwilling to participate meaningfully or where there are significant power imbalances that exit between the parties.




ADR methods reflect a shift towards more holistic and sustainable resolutions in family law, emphasizing collaboration over confrontation. By understanding and utilizing mediation, facilitation, and parental coordination, South African families can navigate the complexities of separation and divorce with greater ease, ensuring the well-being of their children and fostering a cooperative co-parenting environment.

Disclaimer: Information provided in this article does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. All information, content, and references contained in this article are for general informational purposes only and may not constitute the most up- to – date legal or other information.


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