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Family mediation – what it is and when it matters for your family

18 January 2022

This week is Family Mediation week – a yearly event where organisations highlight the benefits of mediation for separating couples.
Through our Separated Parent’s Information Programme (SPIP) we know what an important tool mediation can be for families we work with.
That’s why we asked Solicitor, Mediator and Family Mediation Week Chair Sarah to explain why mediation can be useful and healthy for separating couples and give some tips for how you should approach it.

Mediation is increasingly important for families to consider on the route to separation. During the mediation process, separating couples get together in a neutral environment and a Mediator assists them in reaching key decisions which will affect both themselves and any children involved.

Mediation can cover a range of issues, but usually focuses on both the financial aspects of separation and the implementation of child arrangements, such as outlining when and where the children will spend time with each parent.

In my role I can either represent separating couples in a mediation or legal capacity, which means that when I have my mediation hat on I am unable to provide legal advice and I must always remain impartial – which might be reassuring for people who worry about being “caught out” by the mediation process.

As a mediator I can, however, provide legal information to parties to assist them with the process and help guide them to reach a fair decision, so having a background as a solicitor still helps.

Mediation is not always suitable, however, and this is why the mediator first meets with both parties separately for a confidential initial assessment meeting to find out what the issues are and to consider if mediation is a suitable means of resolving them.

This is also a great opportunity for the mediator to find out what is important to those involved as, from my experience, everyone is different and what is important to one person may not be as important to another in a similar situation.

There are also ways the mediation process can be tailored to each individual’s needs.

Some people do not want to meet face to face and, in this situation, the sessions can take place using video conferencing software. In some cases, people don’t want any direct contact with their ex-partner and this too can be accommodated by the mediation sessions taking place on a “shuttle basis” – meaning I go between them.  Mediation is very adaptable, and it is important you speak openly with the mediator initially to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the process.

From time to time other professionals may also assist the parties to resolve their dispute.

In financial disputes, for example, the parties may benefit from support from their legal advisors and/or financial advisors in the mediation process while, in matters relating to children, it may be helpful for the mediator to speak to the children to find out how they are feeling and ascertain their wishes and feelings.

Mediation is not a magic wand, and several sessions may be needed to resolve the issues. Sometimes not all of them can even be resolved within mediation but by “ticking off” some of the issues it can reduce hostility, prevent additional legal fees and help parties to consider other dispute resolution options. It can also prevent needing court assistance, which can be costly and time-consuming.

Mediation is a way for couples to take control of their situation and make key decisions together to build a positive future for their family. If matters are not resolved through mediation and the parties choose to go down the court route, then they are often lose control of the process –  there are strict rules that need to be followed and court deadlines. The timetable and the process can mean they end up down a path that they did not want to take but felt pressure to comply with.

“Mediation is a way for couples to take control of their situation and make key decisions together to build a positive future for their family.”

I know a lot of people worry about cost but there is currently a government voucher scheme in place which provides separating couples with £500 towards their mediation costs. This only applies to mediation concerning children disputes at present and not financial matters and is there to encourage separating couples to consider mediation rather than issuing court proceedings.

In my experience, this is a great success as I’ve found that more people are willing to consider mediation and attend the first session when it is free. Often following the first session people continue with the process and it gives them an excellent opportunity to experience first-hand the benefits of mediation.

If you’re interested in finding out more about whether mediation is right for you I’d encourage you to look at the Family Mediation Week website as this week we’re hosting a number of free talks and seminars for the general public provided by professionals and experts.

If, however, you’re sure mediation is for you then visit the Family Mediation Council’s website to find a local Mediator.

It may help to consider self referring to our SPIP service before mediation to work on communicating better and learn how doing so helps put your children first. Alternatively, if you need a listening ear to discuss any issue relating to family life you can contact our FamilyLine service for free support, practical information and guidance.