Marilyn McKnight – an interview

Marilyn McKnight, professional family mediator

December 2016

1.  Who are you? Where do you come from? What is your background?

As a middle child of five raised by working class parents in the house my dad built with only two bedrooms and one bath, I learned early on how to negotiate.  Growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, I embraced progressive politics and liberalism, and a strong ethic to serve families, which was realized in my undergraduate studies in sociology and social work at Augsburg College, where I met Steve Erickson. 

2.  What do your current professional practice and activities look like?

Since 1977, I have mediated many kinds of conflicts, though primarily in family and divorce.  I mediate approximately 60 cases annually, as well as train and mentor mediators in Minnesota.  I also continue to convene groups of mediators, therapists, and lawyers to pass a law that would establish a separate path to divorce that will be housed in the Bureau of Mediation Services.  I am also privileged to chair the Professional Mediation Board of Standards (PMBS), to develop a credentialing process for family mediators — a dream I have had since the late 1980s, when this was first considered by the Board of the Academy of Family Mediators (AFM), the predecessor of APFM. 

3.  How did you first learn about mediation?

In 1976, I was a public social worker in child protective services.  Most of my cases involved child neglect in the Minneapolis suburbs, and most were a result of a recent divorce where children were neglected due to depressed moms and absent dads.  It was ludicrous that the aftermath of divorce resulted in neglect complaints to child protective services, often from schools.  That summer, I attended a seminar in Minneapolis about divorce mediation presented by O.J. “Jim” Coogler, JD, from Atlanta, and Morton Deutsch, Ph.D, from Columbia University, NYC.  Jim spoke about divorce mediation, which he had begun in 1974 after spending a year learning about family systems from Virginia Satir in California. It was fascinating!  Morton Deutsch described his research on resolving conflict using cooperative processes. It all made so much sense!  So, my husband and partner, Steve Erickson, and I, along with five colleagues, opened a divorce mediation practice in Minneapolis in 1977, and Steve and I continue that practice today as Erickson Mediation Institute.

4.  What Do You Hope to accomplish as a Board Member of APFM?

As a member of the Board of APFM, I represent the Professional Mediation Board of Standards (PMBS) as its Chair to develop family mediator credentialing that is viable, reliable, legally defensible and meets the standards of the National Commission of Certifying Agencies.  I will coordinate the credentialing process with the field of mediation through my position on the Board to enhance the training and mentoring policies of family mediation, in order to meet the requirements of that process. 

5.  Where do you see the field of mediation going?

It is growing and positively impacting the way families confront and resolve family and divorce conflict.  The credentialing of professional family mediation will better define what mediators do, and it will differentiate mediation from the practices of therapy and of family law.  The public will then better understand what professional mediation is, which may reduce the need for courts to routinely address all divorce and other family conflicts. 

6.  What do you like to do when you are not mediating?

In my private life, I enjoy our three grandchildren, whom we see as often as possible. Steve and I spend a lot of time at our cabin near Leech Lake, MN where we enjoy our many friends and family and one of the cleanest, deepest, spring fed lakes in Minnesota.   And, of course, Steve and I are often involved in politics in Minnesota!  Our most recent work has been a bill that will be heard next session in the Minnesota legislature that will establish a separate track for divorcing couples to obtain their divorces completely outside of the court.  I look forward to that passing and becoming law.  Within that law, divorces will be filed with the Bureau of Mediation Services, and files will be private, not public.  Couples will be encouraged to employ professional experts, as they deem necessary, and they will never be encouraged to compete with each other. 

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