Family mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process to assist couples in dealing with the consequences of their separation by appointing a neutral and independent mediator to facilitate their negotiations. Through a series of confidential and privileged meetings, the role of the mediator is to help the couple or extended family members to reach a resolution on issues arising from the separation. Mediation can deal with children arrangements, financial negotiations with cohabiting or divorcing couples, Schedule 1 matters (financial provision for children), inheritance disputes or any issue which the parties wish to discuss.
Mediation is a principled and structured process that is entirely voluntary. Mediation sessions are generally 90 minutes long and it is one of the roles of the mediator to ensure that there is no imbalance of power and that the process and discussions are fair and effective. It is the duty of the mediator to conduct the mediation sessions in an impartial and balanced manner.
If a party is interested in mediation, they should contact the mediator to enquire about the process and ascertain availability and costs and that it is a suitable process for them. Both parties must then meet separately with the mediator first to ensure that they understand the process, to raise the issues they wish to discuss in mediation and to satisfy themselves that they wish to proceed. During this first meeting the mediator will also conduct a screening exercise to make sure that mediation is an appropriate process for the parties.
The mediator will wish to have returned to them by both parties a signed agreement to mediate and a completed preliminary mediation form.
Generally the costs of mediation are shared between the parties and are likely to be significantly less than those incurred when going to court. Following each mediation session, the mediator should send a summary of what took place in the meeting and what action needs to be taken prior to the next meeting proceeding. Those minutes are confidential and privileged and can only be disclosed to third parties with the consent of both parties, unless there are safeguarding issues which are disclosed during the mediation process. If the parties are negotiating on finances, the mediator should also produce an open summary of the financial position of the parties.
The mediator is likely to use a flipchart to produce written notes of the areas the parties wish to discuss and the issues that are a priority. The mediator should pay particular attention to the welfare needs of any dependent children and encourage the parties to consider these needs. While the mediator must ensure that they retain an impartial and neutral position, they are able to discuss with the clients general principles of family law in a neutral way and provide information about other sources of legal information and advice. There is also a duty to inform clients if they consider the final result might not be an outcome which a court would approve or order. As well as helping the parties to develop options for settlement within the meetings, the mediator should encourage them to take legal advice where appropriate and signpost where other experts may be necessary such as pension experts, actuaries, independent financial advisors, mortgage brokers, counsellors, therapists, tax experts, psychologists and child consultants.
Mediation is a voluntary process for both parties and either party is free to leave if they feel it is not working for them. The mediator can also bring the process to an end if no progress is being made or the parties are not behaving in a manner which is facilitating respectful and constructive negotiations. Following a successful mediation, the mediator will prepare a memorandum of understanding which each party can take to their lawyer to discuss next steps such as the drafting of a consent order. They should also prepare an open financial statement which can be sent to the parties lawyers.
It is not uncommon for a financial agreement to be reached in three to five mediation sessions once financial disclosure has been exchanged within the mediation process. As such mediation can be considerably less expensive and much quicker than either proceeding through court or through a voluntary process of exchanging disclosure and conducting negotiations through solicitors. As importantly, the process of mediation itself can assist the parties in their communication with each other which can help preserve the relationship between them for the long term benefit of the family and any dependent children. It is also more probable that an agreement reached between the parties themselves will be upheld meaning there are likely to be less enforcement issues in the future.
All of our mediators would be happy to take enquiries. For more information, please contact Amanda Andrews (London), Kerry Fretwell (Reading) or Veronica Gilmour (Guildford) directly or use our online personalised enquiry tool here.