Mediation is a commonly misunderstood word in the legal world. The biggest misconception being that mediation can help you mend your relationship, a bit like counselling. The simple answer is, it cannot.
It’s not a method for reconciliation but one designed to facilitate communication and help couples move forwards after the breakdown of their relationship or marriage.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a quick, easy-to-read 5-point guide explaining the process of mediation:
1. What exactly is it?
Put plainly, mediation is a voluntary process for couples who have already decided to separate or divorce.
It’s focussed on helping the couple resolve and prevent disputes in relation to property, assets and finance. Where children are involved, it includes reaching mutually acceptable proposals relating to their care, contact arrangements, co-parenting (link) plans and can help couples for the future in how to move forwards for the sake of the children.
Mediation is confidential, allowing both parties to speak freely and directly to each other in a neutral environment.
2. Who can use it?
Mediation is typically used by the separating or divorcing couple but can include anyone affected by family breakdown e.g. grandparents and step-parents.
In some instances, it is also possible for children to be included in the mediation process so their views are taken into considering during the decision making process.
Mediation is available whether you’ve been separated recently or for a long time. Likewise, you’re able to attend mediation if you’ve already sought legal advice or commenced court proceedings.
3. How does it work?
Mediation is often considered ‘The Clients’ Process’ as both parties must agree to mediate about issues born out of their separation. Hence the Mediator merely facilitates and manages the process. A mediator is totally impartial and does not represent or favour either party, will not tell them what to do, nor will they make judgements about what has happened in the past. Mediation by its very nature is forward-looking and problem-solving not backwards-looking and blaming.
The process begins with each party having a separate Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) with a Mediator, during which the mediation process is explained and the Mediator will discuss their case and assess whether mediation is the right option for them.
If both parties and the Mediator agree that mediation is appropriate, the first mediation session will be arranged. The first meeting concentrates on identifying the issues to be resolved and prioritising them. If this meeting is constructive, it usually takes between three and five meetings to reach mutually acceptable proposals, depending on what you need to sort out.
A Mediator can provide legal information but not legal advice so it’s wise to consult a solicitor at the beginning of the process, particularly in relation to financial mediation, and access it as and when required throughout the process.
It’s also important to note that any proposals reached in mediation are not legally binding until legal advice has been obtained. Therefore, if the mediation subsequently breaks down, it’s possible for either party to negotiate afresh without being prejudiced for any concessions made during the mediation.
After obtaining legal advice to formalize the agreement a solicitor can draft a consent order which reflects the agreement which will then become legally binding in a court of law, thereby protecting both parties.
4. What are the benefits?
a). Mediation is widely viewed to be a quicker, cheaper and less stressful process and the research shows that it secures better results, particularly for children, as it is based on discussion and agreement - The National Audit Office and Government figures reveal:
- A mediated case takes 110 days to resolve compared to 435 days in cases where mediation isn’t used
- In 2012, the average cost per client for mediation was £675 compared to £2,823 for cases going to court. This is an average cost saving of £2,148.
- Agreements through mediation are three times less likely to need further legal services.
b). During mediation, both parties remain in control of the decisions being made and they are able to create their own unique arrangements, tailored to them and their family’s needs rather than having them imposed by a court.
c). Arriving at the agreements together in a more amicable fashion often nurtures better communication, understanding and trust moving forwards. Not only can this be empowering for both parties, but children whose separated parents have a more cooperative relationship will often feel happier, and have greater confidence and security in the long run.
5. What if it’s not right for me/us?
Mediation isn’t always the right solution for everyone. And it isn’t the only way for disputes between separating or divorcing couples to be resolved.
It’s advisable that both parties seek independent legal advice to ensure that you have a clear understanding of all options open to you before final decisions are made.
Mediation at SH&Co.
We’re here to do exactly that.
A highly experienced member of our Family Law department, Victoria Poole is also a Resolution-trained All Issues Family Mediation Council-accredited Mediator. This means she’ll clearly explain the mediation process and help you understand the complete range of options available and clarify your position.
If you’re considering mediation, would like more information or simply to discuss your options, please contact us on 01606 48777 to book a FREE 30 minute appointment or alternatively pop in to one of our 4 FREE weekly drop in-clinics (no appointment required).