We are using this opportunity to shine a light on mediation and how it can help resolve financial disputes or arrangements for children in a cooperative and non-adversarial manner.
What is Mediation?
Family mediation is a voluntary process in which a professionally trained third party (the mediator) helps you agree arrangements with the other party (for example, your ex-partner) concerning arrangements for the children or financial matters.
If you have separated from your partner, reaching an agreement in respect of the way forward for you and your children can be a difficult thing to do on your own. The mediator acts as an independent and neutral third party and is there to facilitate and encourage discussions. Their aim is to help everyone involved find a solution they can agree to.
What are the benefits of Mediation?
- Mediation is held in a safe and confidential environment.
- It provides you with control over the decision-making process and allows you to find a solution you are comfortable with.
- It can be significantly cheaper and less stressful than attending court.
- Dependant on how quickly you are able to reach agreement, the process can be a swift one which allows you to move on as quickly as possible.
- Mediation is less formal and more flexible than a court process, which usually imposes strict deadlines.
- It can improve communication between two parties and provide them with skills which may assist into the future.
Why should I try Mediation?
If mediation is successful, separating couples can avoid the stress and cost of attending court and in most circumstances, before making an application to court you need to provide evidence that you have been to a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) which is an introductory meeting to explain how mediation may be able to assist you.
The family courts are actively encouraging parties to attend mediation to resolve family disputes. The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has stressed that separating couples should “try almost anything” (for example, mediation) before commencing the court process.
You can attend mediation at any time, both in circumstances where your case has already gone to court, or where you are at the beginning of the separation process. Mediation can be a helpful tool to resolve both short and long term disputes.
If I attend Mediation, do I need a lawyer?
It is not essential to have consulted a lawyer before having started mediation; however a mediator cannot provide you with legal advice. It can be helpful to have a legal representative assisting you in parallel to mediation so that you attend any mediation session informed as to your legal position. A lawyer can also assist with drafting a consent order arising from any agreement reached at mediation, so that it can be made into a binding order by the court.
I am a victim of domestic abuse, is Mediation suitable for me?
If you are a victim of domestic abuse, mediation may not be suitable for you. Domestic abuse can take many forms and even some experiencing it may not identify the behaviour as abusive. For instance, coercive and controlling behaviour can be hard to identify but leaves a significant power imbalance within negotiations which can render mediation unsuitable. However, each case is different and in some circumstances, you and the mediator may consider it safe to mediate. The mediator will carry out a domestic abuse screening before mediation begins.
It is crucial that you feel safe proceeding with mediation and, in circumstances where domestic abuse is an issue, the mediation process can be adapted to ensure that you feel safe. For example, family mediation can take place via telephone, Zoom or via a ‘shuttle’ process where you and your ex-partner remain in separate rooms or virtual spaces so you do not have to see or speak to them; the mediator moves between you and acts as a means of communication.
Mediation is a voluntary process, so if at any time you no longer feel comfortable, you can stop the process.
Where can I find a mediator?
The Family Mediation Council Register is a database of trained and qualified mediators. All members of the Family Mediation Council must adhere to a Code of Practice which details the general principles of mediation as well as training and conduct standards. You can access the database at the following link: https://www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk/
In 2021 the Government launched the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme which provides a financial contribution of up to £500 towards the costs of mediation, subject to eligibility. The following cases would be eligible for a mediation voucher:
- a dispute/application regarding a child
- a dispute/application regarding family financial matters where you are also involved in a dispute/application relating to a child
Further information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/family-mediation-voucher-scheme.
Beck Fitzgerald is a leading family law firm with offices on Bedford Row in central London. We provide specialist advice and representation to our clients in all areas of family law.
We believe that access to justice should be everybody’s right and have made family law as affordable and accessible as we can.