This week, 17 to 21 January, is Family Mediation Week throughout England and Wales, a campaign which aims to highlight the benefits of mediation as a method for approaching conflicts and disputes within separating families. Using mediation can be one of the best ways of resolving disputes for those going through divorce or separation, or trying to agree arrangements for children.
Mediation takes place at a neutral venue and the sessions last around 90 minutes, with the parties involved and an independent mediator in attendance. The role of the mediator is to be an independent, neutral individual who helps the couple to reach an agreement together, which is their agreement alone, not one shaped by courts or lawyers.
Some of the advantages of mediation are that it is voluntary, confidential, and non-binding. It can be less expensive and take less time to reach an agreement through mediation; indeed, the court expects anyone who is considering issuing a financial or children application to the court to attend an appointment with a mediator, to see whether mediation could be a viable alternative to litigation.
Decisions can be made in mediation which can otherwise take weeks or months using solicitors. One of the mediator's roles is to help the parties to identify issues, discuss legal options and related information, and then brainstorm options. Mediation sessions can also help to improve communication between the parties, which in the long term can lead to benefits for all involved in a family breakdown. It is possible to reach an agreement in mediation in two to three sessions, and if one is reached, then it can be taken back to lawyers to be drawn up in a more formal document.
Mediation is a particularly effective tool for parents trying to resolve disputes over arrangements relating to their children. Moreover, the process can be flexible and can allow grandparents, stepparents, or the children themselves to become involved. A mediator should also be able to sign post where the process may need the input of another expert, such as an accountant, therapist, or actuary.
Mediation can also be used to consider applications for children to leave the country, and for those in cohabiting relationships, where the law can be particularly complex and outcomes unpredictable. The role of the mediator is to assist the parties in reaching an agreement, but unlike arbitration (which is another out of court Resolution process, or issuing court proceedings), any outcome reached at mediation is non-binding.
It is a brave decision for a couple who are experiencing marriage or relationship breakdown to sit round the table with each other and try to resolve their issues consensually. It may not be the best way forward for all, but for those who are able to, the advantages of reaching an agreement through mediation are likely to outweigh the disadvantages.
It is reported that Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow reached an agreement through mediation when they separated, as well as Tom Cruise from his former spouses. The confidentiality of the process for celebrities is far preferable than hammering out issues in highly public contested and viciously expensive divorce proceedings.
The mediation process itself begins with a call, and then an individual session with each party. Those who are interested need to understand the process and be committed to resolving their issues in an open and constructive manner. While litigation may be unavoidable for some, mediation is often a far better alternative to other options for many separated couples.