A family separation or divorce is a life changing event. It’s also an experience that is emotional, can be very bruising and distressing and can leave you confused and worried about how you can sort things out between you. You may be worried about your family finances, your living arrangements, whether immediately or for the future and if you are a parent, concerned about your children’s future.
There are lots of ways in which you can sort things out between you even though things might be feeling very difficult for you. You may already know or if you have seen a solicitor, they may have explained to you that people are being recommended and encouraged to consider resolving matters between them without going to Court.
This is because Courts can struggle to find solutions that suit the whole family and can reduce conflict between you, especially if you are parents. Decision making through Courts can take a long time and increase stress on everyone involved. For all these reasons, before you can start any proceedings, you must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting with a Mediator.
Information and Assessment Meetings are designed to help you to consider mediation and importantly, what might be available to assist you and to provide any other information that might help you to move forward.
- Meetings are conducted by a qualified and skilled mediator, recognised for this purpose. Their role is to assess with you what is most important for you to deal with or resolve, the ways in which you might sort things out between you without going to Court, (where it is safe to do so) and to provide any other information that might help or assist you in all of the circumstances. Importantly, they can give you the ‘next step’ you might need but may not know about. The mediator you meet will also invite the other person /your former partner to a separate and similar meeting.
- To make the best use of the time at the meeting, many mediators will ask you to provide brief information about yourself and your situation ahead of your meeting. This information is confidential unless and until you agree that any of the information you provide might be shared with another person.
- Meetings are usually offered on a confidential basis, the only exception to this being if you should report or say anything in the meeting that refers to your safety, the safety of another person – and particularly of any child or children. If that should happen, the mediator will talk with you about what needs to happen next, including whether they should contact an appropriate agency and what is important for you to do. Mediators have a responsibility to ensure that they do everything they can to protect vulnerable individuals and especially any child or children. Otherwise, mediators have a duty to respect your individual privacy and the confidentiality of any meeting (subject to the exceptions mentioned) and will not share information otherwise without your permission.
- The mediator you meet will often act as a mediator for you both, so it is important that you know that as they work in a balanced and even-handed way between you; they will be most interested in what is important to you to sort out and what you hope can be achieved rather than what has happened and whether it is anyone’s fault. This is so they can ensure that any process of mediation is impartial.
- It is important too that you understand that information shared in a separate meeting which is relevant to what you wish to resolve in mediation, will need to be part of any discussion if you decide to go on to mediate. The mediator who meets with you will explain and discuss this with you so that you are clear about this.
- In the meeting, the mediator will also be able to give you information about any other matters that may be worrying you – for example, your children and managing parenting now or once you are living separately, managing money and debts, personal emotional support and/or other practical matters that affect those who are separated or who are planning to or have divorced. Sometimes it might not be appropriate for you to mediate right away, and if you think that might be the case for you, tell your mediator so that they can discuss with you what might be an alternative or what you might do before choosing mediation. You can consider mediation at any time, regardless of whether you decide to go to or have been to Court.
- Mediation is a choice, and it is important that it’s right for you and your circumstances. An information and assessment meeting helps you think about what might be ways of resolving things. The mediator is there to help you think through what might work best and a mediator may also decide, having talked with each of you that mediation isn’t the most appropriate or suitable way forward for you. No-one can make you mediate, and the court will not ‘blame’ you if you decide not to mediate, or not to choose mediation straightaway.
- Meetings usually last between an hour and ninety minutes or so depending on what you need to discuss – and there is usually a charge for the meeting which the mediator who meets with you will discuss with you. If you are eligible for public funding (Legal Aid), the meeting is offered free of charge. Information about eligibility can be found at:
www.gov.uk/check-legal-aid (You must answer that mediation is under way)
Not all mediators who conduct meetings offer Legal Aid, so if you think you might be eligible, you should check whether the mediator you contact or who contacts you offers Legal Aid. You can check that by going to:
www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk where you can search for mediators local to you and who also offer Legal Aid
It is important to say that mediation is not always the right or appropriate choice for everyone. If there has been any form of abuse in your relationship, if you don’t feel able to speak up in your own interest or that of your children or if you think you would feel at risk in meeting with your former partner, then you should inform the mediator of this. They can explore with you what might be more helpful and useful for you in dealing with things.
Angela Lake-Carroll and Alexis Walker