Family Mediation

What is Family Mediation?

Family mediation is a process allowing you to make decisions about your own and your childrens’ futures with the help of an impartial third party. It is practical and gives you a chance to put forward your needs and priorities. It is a much cheaper and quicker process than the Court can offer and ensures that you can maintain control of the decisions that need to be made.

As with any major life change divorce and separation can be a stressful experience. It affects every aspect of your life, from the arrangements that you make for your children, to where you will live and how the finances will work. When you mediate, it is these crucial and often very practical aspects that we focus on, so that you can ensure that you can start shaping the best future for you.

How does Family Mediation work?

You may attend an initial assessment meeting either with your partner, or on your own, to find out more and decide if mediation will be the right process for you. If you both decide to go ahead, then a convenient appointment will be made for the first session.

Some people who have already decided that mediation is the right route for them will prefer to go straight to the first session, in which case the mediator will explain how mediation works, answer any questions you may have and then spend time with each of you alone in case there is something that you wish to say, or ask privately. After that, the discussion will begin.

Each session usually lasts around 90 minutes and on average the process takes between two to three sessions. At the first session, we help you set an agenda for what you want to achieve and then we start to explore the options. If you wish to sort out financial matters, you will be asked to complete a form setting out your financial position and to bring paperwork to back it up, so that decisions can be based on solid and reliable information. The aim is to reach acceptable proposals about whatever is important to you and your family, which will then be drawn up in a summary called a “Memorandum of Understanding.”

The mediator can give you general information about the law and other matters, but cannot give you specific legal advice, as they must remain impartial.  You may therefore find it useful to take legal advice from a solicitor either before or between sessions, so that you feel equipped to make important decisions.

If you wish to make the proposals that are set out in the Memorandum legally binding, then you will need to ask a solicitor to incorporate them in an agreement or Consent Order. This will make them legally binding without any need for you to go to Court.

Why Mediation?

 

  • What are the benefits of mediation compared with a couple negotiating directly with each other?

If a couple remains flexible and open to compromise with each other, so long as they are aware of the relevant laws (property, children, etc) negotiating directly must be the best option. Unfortunately, during separation, people may find themselves in conflict and may find that either they or their partner is stuck in a position that that they believe they cannot move from.

The presence of a trained mediator can change that by focussing on positive outcomes and preventing unproductive conflicts, a trained mediator with a knowledge of family law can gently guide discussions toward productive avenues that may not be possible when a separating couple is negotiating directly with each other.

  • What are the benefits of mediation compared with going to Court?

It is a much cheaper and quicker process than the Court can offer and ensures that you can maintain control of the decisions that need to be made.  Courts only have powers to impose a limited range of provisions in orders, but a couple can choose to create arrangements that specifically deal with their particular family needs. If you apply to Court each side immediately takes a position and strives to convince the Court to accept it, often missing other options which may be better. After a Court hearing one side will “win” the argument and the other will “lose”.  However, the reality is that having been through the Court process acrimony in the family will be intensified and both sides will be “the loser”

  • What are the benefits and advantages of mediation?

In mediation the couple decide what their agenda is and work together on it. The mediator will ensure that both people have the opportunity to be put their views forward and be listened to. Sometimes one person is more confident or knowledgeable about certain things than the other and the mediator will ensure that the other person is given time and support to express their views and understand what is necessary to play a full part in reaching proposals.

Relationship breakdowns are generally stressful and evoke strong emotions which can get in the way of making effective plans. In mediation progress can be paced to suit the needs of individuals. A mediator can ensure that if emotions become overwhelming, they are not allowed to sabotage the process of focussing on practical arrangements which will enable the couple to make viable plans for the future.

All discussions in mediation are confidential and cannot be used in Court and so mediation is a safe place to make suggestions and try out ideas.  Mediation is private and arrangements are made to suit each couple so that they can feel more in control of important decisions.

Mediation is cheaper and quicker than going through the Court process.  It can also be quicker than working through solicitors as by both parties being present at meetings many straight forward matters can be agreed swiftly and easily, leaving the trickier areas to be identified and concentrated upon.

For many couples who are struggling to communicate after a relationship breakdown, they find that by working together, with the help of a mediator, they can rebuild lines of communication, particularly where it is clearly vital for their children’s wellbeing that they can work together on important parenting issues

  • Is mediation for everyone?

Mediation will only work if both parties commit to find solutions together. They do not have to be amicable to do this. Mediation cannot force people to be open and honest and where one person will not provide accurate information or refuse to contemplate any outcome other than theirs, it is likely that the matter would be better dealt with by a Court.

Mediation is emotionally hard and whilst mediators will do all they can to support people who are struggling to cope, where emotions are too raw or there is a history of physical or emotional abuse a person may either need to seek counselling first or engage a solicitor to provide them with support.

What family mediation is and isn’t...

Family mediation is...

  • An alternative to court proceedings for solving issues about finance and children
  • It is generally cheaper than going to Court
  • It is faster than going to Court
  • Voluntary and confidential
  • The parties make the decisions
  • A place where you can discuss whatever is important not just the legal process

Family mediation isn't...

  • Counselling or therapy
  • About reconciliation
  • A substitute for legal advice
  • A process where anyone can be compelled  to provide documentary evidence
  • A process where the Mediator will make  decisions for you or judge you
  • A legally binding process as to be made binding proposals made in mediation will need to be incorporated in an agreement or Consent Order
  • The right process for everyone

Family mediation resources

Resolution provides very useful information about different options for sorting out relationship breakdowns, as well as practical tips and information about children and parenting.

The Money Advice Service provides free, unbiased, independent advice to help you to manage your money better.

Julia Smart is the head of our Family Mediation department. For more information, please contact Julia on 0117 945 3060 or email jsmart@metcalfes.co.uk

Julia Smart
Partner
0117 945 3060
Divorce and Family, Residential Property, Family Mediation