Help with Family Mediation
Why would I choose family mediation?
Family mediation is a way of trying to resolve the issues which will arise from the breakdown of your relationship. It is not couple counselling or marriage guidance; a mediator assumes that you are going to separate, and helps you to identify and address the issues you will need to deal with.
The success rate for mediation services is remarkably high – even couples who start the process a long way apart and quite angry with each other often find common ground in mediation. Your mediator will explain the mediation process in detail, but it generally involves three or four meetings with your husband/wife/partner and an accredited mediator over a space of a few weeks. You don’t necessarily have to meet face-to-face in the same room – most mediators can provide separate meeting rooms and shuttle between them.
Mediation is a particularly suitable forum to discuss the arrangements for your children. At the end of the day both of you, as parents, will want to safeguard your children’s well-being during separation and divorce, and as parents you are probably better placed than any judge or solicitor to make the right choices for your children.
Mediation is also a good place to talk about financial issues arising from your separation or divorce. Mediators are often most comfortable talking about financial issues arising from divorce, because financial issues between an unmarried couple can be legally technical. But for unmarried couples also, there is a clear benefit in reaching a quick and mutually acceptable outcome, rather than getting involved in protracted and expensive court proceedings.
So I almost always recommend my clients to think about meeting their husband/wife/partner in a properly accredited family mediation service, because in my experience it is usually the best way of sorting things out, and it is generally very cost-effective.
I’m talking here about professional, accredited family mediation services. Sometimes friends or family members offer to help a separated couple by mediating between them. They may offer this help with best of intentions, but I would treat the offer with caution. Mediating family disputes is a very skilled task, and it is not for amateurs. An accredited mediator brings skills and experience to the situation and s/he is perceived as completely detached from both parties.
You don’t have to be referred into mediation by a solicitor – you can self-refer. If you wish I can suggest a mediator for you and the Resolution website (www.resolution.co.uk) has a search engine to help you find an accredited family mediator in your area. You don’t have to get your husband/wife/partner’s agreement before you approach the mediation service. If you think s/he is likely to treat your suggestion with suspicion you can approach the mediator on your own and the mediator will then approach your husband/wife/partner at the right moment.
Do I need a solicitor if I choose mediation?
Most people using mediation find it helpful to have advice from a solicitor during the process. Flexibility is one of the advantages of mediation – in the end you can agree whatever you want, but an understanding of your legal position can help you to focus on the key issues and make the right choices. So you may want to take advice about your legal position before you begin mediation. Sometimes the mediator will suggest that you take advice from a solicitor between mediation meetings about one or more of the issues which have come up.
At the end of the mediation process, you and your husband/wife/partner will, hopefully, reach an agreement, which is usually written up by the mediator in a “memorandum of understanding”. Neither of you is committed to the agreement until you have both had chance to take proper legal advice, and then confirmed that you are still happy with what is proposed. The agreement then has to be recorded in the correct legally binding format – generally this will be a “consent order”, which is an order made by a judge approving you proposed arrangement.
So a solicitor has, basically, three functions in the context of mediation: –
Advice about your legal rights on the issues you are discussing.
Advice about the merits of the proposed arrangement when you reach an agreement. It is not my task to unpick an arrangement you have agreed, but it is my responsibility to help you by comparing it with the outcome which might be achieved if you went through court proceedings, and by pointing out potential snags, or points which may have been overlooked.
Documenting the proposed arrangement, usually into a consent order or a formal deed of separation.