The origins of the FMA are in a pioneering project “Solicitors in Mediation” established in December 1985, in which five London solicitors, Jack Bleiman, Henry Brown, John Cornwell, Diana Parker and Felicity White, joined with a family conciliator, Lisa Parkinson, to set up a pilot scheme for family mediation. The six innovators were looking for a new approach to help separating and divorcing couples reach agreed decisions on any or all issues, including arrangements for children, finance and property. An increasing number of divorcing clients were asking whether the same solicitor could see their partner as well, but solicitors were prevented by their professional practice rules from acting for both parties involved in separation or divorce.

Before this project, conciliation/mediation services in England and Wales had focused almost exclusively on issues concerning children. Such services did not in general mediate on financial and property matters and the majority of conciliators in these services were social workers and counsellors who had not been trained in comprehensive mediation.

It was apparent from an early stage of the project that there were considerable advantages in developing a cross-disciplinary approach in which an experienced family lawyer (solicitor or barrister) mediated jointly with a second mediator from a background in conciliation, counselling or social work. Between 1986 and 1988 the six members of the pilot project did a great deal of groundwork and training, drafting documents setting out basic principles and guidelines for the practice of comprehensive mediation before taking steps to offer a new service. Henry Brown and Jack Bleiman undertook training in comprehensive mediation with John Haynes in New York. Lisa Parkinson provided training sessions for the five lawyers in mediation methods designed specially by her and the pilot group for use within the English legal system.

One of the group’s primary concerns was to liaise closely with the Law Society to ensure that solicitors who mediated would not be in breach of any of the Law Society’s ethical requirements. This was initially achieved by agreeing that solicitors who mediated would not do so “as solicitors” but specifically in a distinct role as mediators. The Law Society’s Family Law Committee also set up a joint working party with the six pioneers, which met over a two-year period to explore questions of professional indemnity, accountability, an appropriate Code of Practice and the criteria for training and accreditation.

Training in comprehensive mediation covering both children and financial issues was seen as a priority and Lisa Parkinson took the initiative in obtaining a grant from the Nuffield Foundation to design and pilot a training programme in comprehensive mediation, working with co-mediators from different disciplines. A two-year grant of £50,000.00 was awarded to Lisa to develop and run training courses and to cover expenses, and this was administered by the Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology. The Nuffield grant enabled the pilot project to move into a new phase from October 1988.

The Law Society also provided a grant of £5,000, which helped with the FMA’s set-up costs. The Solicitors in Mediation pilot had aroused great interest in legal and conciliation circles, and led directly to the formation of FMA, a new association whose primary aim was providing training and develop practice in interdisciplinary mediation: the inaugural meeting of The Family Mediators’ Association was held on 7 December 1988 at 20 Essex Street, London WC2.

The objects identified at this first meeting were first to make mediation available on all issues that need to be settled in separation or divorce, including financial matters and property; second to pair a lawyer mediator with a family mediator so that separating or divorcing couples could be helped to settle issues requiring legal expertise as well as experience of working with couples and families; and third to provide interdisciplinary training for mediators from different professional backgrounds, including the law.

FMA’s first chair was Diana Parker, Henry Brown was the first vice-chair and Lisa Parkinson was the first director. By September 1989 the FMA had 45 mediator members in practice and another 20 training and by the end of 1990 members had doubled to 160 including those in training. FMA mediation was now available throughout England from Middlesbrough to Plymouth and from Shrewsbury to Suffolk.

FMA is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2023. Many of our eminent founding members, including Lisa Parkinson and Henry Brown, both now Vice-Presidents of the Association, still actively support our work. FMA now represents more than 400 professional family mediators, from a variety of backgrounds, is a leading trainer of family mediators, specialising in particular in co-mediation techniques, and has a network of professional supervisors (PPCs) working with family mediators throughout England and Wales.