What is mediation?
Mediation is a process through which parties to a dispute can resolve their disagreements. The parties meet each other in the presence of the mediator, and, assisted and guided by him or her, discuss the matters on which they are not agreed. The mediator helps the parties to keep the discussions focussed on the issues, but crucially, does not have a role in the decision itself. He or she is not an arbitrator, handing down a decision or judging the merits of either party’s position or suggested solutions. The decisions are those of the parties.
Family mediation is just one of the ways in which you can resolve relationship breakdown issues, if you and your former partner or spouse can't easily agree matters, and in many ways it can be one of the best. Mediation is:
Your future is important, and you should be the ones to decide it. In a mediated settlement, the arrangements are those that you and your former partner or spouse agree. That can be difficult: finding a way through isn't easy, and it takes strength and patience to take responsibility for finding a resolution. But whatever is decided, it will be what YOU have been able to agree.
There is no predetermined way for your particular situation to be resolved. If you and your former partner agree on a solution which is a little unorthodox but would work for you, that is fine. What you decide may not be what a Court would order, but if it suits your circumstances, it may well be the best and most practical solution.
A mediator will ask you to consider how what you propose would work in practice, and can inform you how a Court might consider your situation, but if you can both agree on a settlement and it is practicable, it will be respected.
In some situations, you can make a temporary arrangement, for example about childcare, and set a trial period to see how what has been proposed works in practice. At a later mediation meeting, you can discuss how that approach worked and either modify or continue the arrangement.
Mediation can be suspended for a time for any reason. It could be that one party needs time to come to terms with the end of the relationship: or that the process can be more productive if both parties attend counselling to work through some difficult issues. There may be a need to take expert external advice about a particular issue, for example splitting a specific asset such as a pension. You may wish to consider or explore a reconciliation. Whatever the reason, you can pick up the mediation process once again after a break.
As a way of settling disputes, the process is relatively speedy. After initial individual meetings, it normally takes between two and five sessions of around 90 minutes to conclude a proposal, depending on the issues to be dealt with and their complexity. Sometimes there will be a need to gather important financial information to move the process to the next stage, or to take expert advice on a particular aspect, but there is no formal structure or timetable, and a full proposal can be in place within two to six months. By contrast, a resolution through the Court procedures will take a minimum of 8-9 months from the date of an application to a final decision if the dispute is not settled before a contested hearing, and can take considerably longer.
In simple financial terms, mediation is a far less expensive way to settle the issues that can arise in a family breakdown. The costs of resolving a financial dispute on divorce through the Court are very high. Even a simple financial matter involving the most basic of family assets of a home, some savings and debts and some pension assets can easily lead to each party paying in excess of £12,000 plus VAT in legal costs if the dispute ends in a contested hearing with a full day in Court. That’s nearly £30,000 of family assets spent on determining each person’s share in a much diminished pot.
A mediated financial settlement requiring five sessions, together with the individual meetings and two hours allowed for the preparation of documents will cost £2,290, between the parties, a cost to each of £1,145, excluding any costs that might be incurred taking outside expert advice and the preparation and submission of a subsequent order by consent for the Family Court.
Subject to some limited exceptions, the options explored and discussions held in mediation are confidential. This means that you can consider any ideas or make any proposal about how to sort out an issue without fear that at some later date, a suggestion that you made will be referred to as ‘your position’. So there is freedom to consider all ways to solve the issue. Disclosing the discussions in mediation can be made only if you both agree to do so.
Mediation is an entirely voluntary process. You are both in mediation because you have decided that this is the best way to try to solve your differences. If either of you, or indeed the mediator, considers that the process isn't working for any reason, the mediation will end.