Mediation is predicated on the notion that disputants have an argument or disagreement about something. Mediation is set up with a “neutral” mediator to enable an agreement to emerge from competing positions. Mediators are appointed by a third-party (e.g., courts) to enable a neutral forum for joint decision making, where disputants can set out their proposals and negotiate an agreement where possible. However, in the family mediation sessions investigated in this study, there are specific challenges that confront the process of reaching agreement, namely the emotionality of disputing terms of visitation for children. Using conversation analysis, this paper investigates how parents explicitly challenge and contradict each other during mediation sessions with a court-appointed mediator. Rather than use the mediator to repackage and redirect contradictory statements, parents directly address each other by violating question–answer sequences, completing mediator turns, and repairing formulations made by the mediator, to name a few. These findings bear resemblance to arguments investigated in non-mediation settings (e.g., playgrounds). This similarity is particularly interesting given the fact that mediation is designed, at least in theory, to minimize direct challenges and contradictions (cf. Garcia 1991).
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