The phrase “serious imminent harm” is an important one. It means “imminent physical or bodily harm.” Child abuse is always considered a serious imminent harm issue. Other forms of abuse, including spousal abuse, animal abuse, most criminal behavior, fraud, financial abuse and property damage are not as cut and dry and require further exploration by the mediator. Situations involving the possibility of serious imminent harm always warrant volunteer mediators checking in with case managers or CCR staff to determine what steps, if any, should be taken.
There is blanket confidentiality surrounding the entire mediation and then there is the specific confidentiality that comes into play when mediators meet individually with parties in caucus to discuss possible settlement options. There are two ways a mediator might deal with the very special confidentiality of caucus. Either everything in caucus is confidential unless the mediator is given permission to share specific information or the mediator is free to reveal any information unless the party specifically tells the mediator that it is confidential. Which of these methods the mediator chooses is a matter of style, but either way, the mediator must make clear what the rule is and should, at the end of caucus, review with the party what is confidential.
There are layers of confidentiality within mediation, and mediators must remain cognizant of this assurance. There is nothing that will cost a mediator the trust of parties more readily or more irreparably than breaching confidentiality. It is one of the cornerstones of the process and, without it, parties will not feel comfortable being open and honest with the mediator and, ultimately, with their co-disputant.