Family Mediation Solicitors
How Mediation Works
Mediation is a structured discussion between those having a disagreement – such as a couple who are separating – and an impartial third party called a mediator. Mediators do not have to have a legal background, but some family lawyers are also mediators and trained in facilitating productive conversations. They can’t give you legal advice, and they won’t make or recommend any decisions for you. Separation and divorce mediators are skilled at helping couples talk through their disagreements in a respectful, non-confrontational way.
Mediation assumes both parties are willing to make reasonable compromises for the sake of a common goal, whether that is a smooth and amicable divorce or keeping relationships positive for their children’s benefit. Both parties will have an opportunity to say their piece, with the mediator guiding or stimulating the conversation in a way that promotes understanding between the people.
The aim is that an agreement is reached that both parties are happy to commit to, without the stress or expense of having to obtain a Court Order.
Benefits of Mediation
Mediation has several main advantages. Firstly, it is less formal and more relaxed than in a court setting. It generally takes place in a neutral location, like your mediator’s office. The only people there are those having the discussion and their mediator. You will not feel influenced or pressured by the other person’s family or advocate – this is just between you.
Mediators are impartial, and they do not pass judgement or allow an opinion to influence them in any way. They are not concerned as much about what an outcome is, only that one is reached that both parties are satisfied with. A mediator can help you explore compromises and alternatives that your lawyer may not otherwise consider as your solicitor’s primary focus is on what is getting the best for you, even if that is at the expense of your ex-partner. A lawyer’s approach can sometimes, therefore, be competitive, which is not conducive to cooperation.
Mediation can be particularly beneficial when it relates to child arrangements. By avoiding conflict and dispute, their parents can keep home life relatively calm and stress-free. Children whose parents share custody in a mature and respectful way are less adversely affected by divorce than those whose parents are locked in a bitter battle that has more to do with how they feel about each other than how they feel about their child. Child arrangements resolved through mediation can give children the confidence to maintain strong relationships with both parents without feeling disloyalty or pressure.
Mediation is considerably less expensive than having to obtain a Court Order. Some clients may be entitled to free mediation sessions or have the expense partially subsidised, depending on their financial circumstances. Your family lawyer or mediator will let you know if this applies to you. Instead of each party paying hourly for a lawyer, they share the cost of a single mediator, and there are no court costs to consider either. It is estimated the divorce mediation costs around 50% less than obtaining a Court Order – more if your divorce is particularly acrimonious or complicated.
It is faster to access mediation than it is to get a decision via a Court Order. Mediation, therefore, benefits separating couples who want to determine the conditions of their divorce so they can get their Decree Absolute and move forward with their new lives.
In addition to all these benefits, mediation can be a healing process for a separating couple. It helps them work through their differences with respect and fosters an understanding of the other person’s position. Couples can put aside their differences and focus on a mutual goal.
Court Orders take away your power to make your own decisions. With mediation you are in control, setting the pace by determining the frequency of your sessions. You have time to research and gather the relevant information, and to obtain legal advice in between meetings. When both parties reach an agreement, they know it is because they have looked at all the options and decided that this is the one that best fits their lives. Mediation is tailor-made to suit you, with decisions reached by you instead of for you. Agreements reached through mediation are less likely to fall apart or become a cause of discord or bitterness because one party believes they were treated unfairly.
The Mediation Process
Mediation begins with a referral form. After submitting it, you will be contacted by a mediator to arrange a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). This initial meeting, which will take somewhere between thirty minutes and an hour, is to determine whether mediation is the correct strategy for you and your spouse.
During the meeting, the mediator will go through your options with you, explain how mediation works, discuss the relevant costs and advise if you may be entitled to legal aid to pay for your mediation sessions. Your mediator can talk to you and your partner together or individually. At the end of the MIAM they will let you know whether they consider mediation will or will not work for you. If it will, you can arrange an appointment for your first session. If not, they will provide you with a form that lets the court know you have considered mediation but it was not appropriate. This form will be required as proof, as family law in England & Wales states all couples must at least consider mediation or collaborative law before applying for a Court Order to resolve their disagreements.
Mediation takes place over a number of sessions – exactly how many will depend on your needs and how your sessions progress. Sessions can be done with the other participant in the room, or your mediator may speak to you individually, or it can vary from session to session. They will give each of you the opportunity to express your point of view of what you believe is important, before facilitating a conversation to identify the cause of the problem and potential solutions.
You do not have to come to an agreement at a mediation session. Sometimes you may want to consider what has been discussed and get advice from your family lawyer before coming to a conclusion. You determine the pace for mediation.
You can get the most from your mediation sessions by:
- Writing down the points you want to make so as not forget them during your session. You can let your mediator know at the start that you want to discuss these points so they can ensure that you have the opportunity to do so.
- Communicating in a respectful way. Your mediator will set out some basic rules a the start of each session, like not speaking over the other person and allowing them to have their say. Be conscious of the language you use so you do not inadvertently make the other party feel defensive and unlikely to cooperate. Try to keep your voice calm and moderated so you can think and communicate rationally, and the other person hears your words and not your hurt or anger.
- Keeping focused on the issue. It can be difficult if you feel anger towards the other person, but staying focused on the issue being discussed rather than being distracted by unrelated memories and incidents will give mediation a better chance of success.
- Being clear about issues you are prepared to compromise on and those you are not. Have your reasons for these clear in your mind so you can explain your rationale. Be willing to listen to the other party’s side, but also be prepared to seek a Court Order if your belief is that strong.
- Listening to what the other side is saying. Without listening, there is no mediation, just two people talking at each other and getting nowhere. You do not have to agree with what they are saying but listening will give you a greater understanding of why they hold that opinion or belief.
- Owning your mistakes. Neither of you is entirely responsible for the breakdown of your relationship. Acknowledging your errors and the ways in which you hurt the other person can help rebuild trust which will, in turn, make mediation that much more productive. Good mediation will hopefully lead to a more respectful relationship which will make co-parenting a pleasure rather than be something that continues to cause difficulty and arguments throughout your child’s life.
There are occasions when one party is not willing to cooperate. It may be because they still harbour a lot of anger and resentment towards their ex – especially if their spouse initiated the separation or caused it with unreasonable behaviour. Possibly it is because they are at a different level of acceptance and are still grieving for the marriage that might have been, or it could be that they do not want to separate at all. Whatever the reason it is helpful to get to the root of it so you can understand their point of view. The reluctant party is likely to be more embracing of mediation when they realise their feelings will be listened to and acknowledged.
Agreements made during mediation are not binding, and you can change your mind about something you have said without any legal repercussions. It is more beneficial, however, that you only agree to an outcome you with which you are satisfied. The mediator will talk to you about how you want to record the solutions reached through mediation so you can discuss with your spouse whether you will apply for a Court Order for any particular arrangements like maintenance or access.
You should talk to your lawyer before starting mediation for their guidance about questions you should ask and points to consider. While a mediator can give you information about English family law, they cannot give you legal advice or point out if you agree to something that is potentially very unfair to you.
What to do When Mediation Doesn’t Work
For mediation to work, both parties have to be willing to listen and keep an open mind. Mediation is unlikely to work if:
- The relationship between both parties has broken down completely
- There is a history of domestic violence
- One party blames the other entirely for the cause of the separation, such as infidelity or debt
- One party does not trust the other to be honest in disclosing the correct financial details or thinks they may be lying about an important issue
Mediation is useful in a significant number of divorces, but it is not for everyone. An alternative to mediation is collaborative law. Like mediation, collaborative law involves discussion with your partner, but instead of a mediator being present each party attends with their divorce lawyer who can support and advise them during the discussion.
Not Just For Divorce
Family mediation is not only for couples divorcing, but it can also work for couples dissolving their Civil Partnership, or unmarried couples who are separating. The process is the same (although the legal rights for the unmarried couple may be different) and the goals are always to reach a solution to discord with minimal stress and cost.
Mediation is not only about solving problems. It will help your entire family reach an understanding about family life going forward, clarifying expectations, setting out responsibilities, and giving you a positive way to communicate in what can be a very negative process.
How to Access Mediation
You can refer yourself for mediation, ask your lawyer for a family mediation referral form, or be referred by a court. All ways are equally valid, although it is generally preferable if people go into mediation voluntarily rather than because they have been directed to by the court. You are under no obligation to work with the first mediator you speak to. As with finding the right lawyer, you will be more open to mediation if you feel comfortable with the manner and the ability of the mediator with whom you are working.
Contact a reputable family solicitor to find out more about mediation during a separation or divorce.
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