Debunking myths about family mediation – Karen Barham

Almost always, problems are best solved when people talk but when relationships end emotions can run high and talking face-to-face can be impossible.  That’s where a family mediator comes in.

What is mediation?

A mediator is not a relationship counsellor and mediation is not relationship or marriage guidance.  The mediator is trained to help sort out issues faced by separating and divorcing couples such as the arrangements for their children and the financial settlement.  

Family mediators are specially trained and often come from a variety of other professional backgrounds (legal, counselling & therapeutic, financial such as Independent Financial Advisers). They are neutral and will not take sides.  They are able to provide general legal and other information to you both.  Some are qualified to consult with children in mediation.

How does mediation work? 

Mediators find out what is important to each of you and help you to make your own choices and decisions about the best way forward. They will help you reach practical solutions which work for you, and if you are parents, for your children. 

The mediator will spend some time with each of you in individual discussions and if appropriate the meetings can be with both of you together but they do not need to be.  The mediator will work in any way that is manageable and safe.  The meetings can be face-to-face and/or by virtual means eg Zoom.  Mediation can be provided without you both being in the same room or building ie it can be entirely by separate meetings where the circumstances require.

Typically three to five sessions may be required but each case is different.  The mediator is obliged to provide a costs estimate for the work to be undertaken and a timescale for the meetings.

Do I need a lawyer and how are lawyers involved?

You can consult your own lawyer at any time, to take legal advice on what is best for you and to support and advise as the mediation progresses.

Lawyers or other professionals can also be invited to attend the meetings (often known as Hybrid or lawyer inclusive mediation).

Only when you have had the opportunity to take legal advice and you are both satisfied with the proposed settlement or outcome, will any legal or other formalities then be finalised (usually by the lawyers).  You cannot be ‘caught out’ or held to any proposals discussed in the mediation process itself.

Mediation assessment

In most cases if you want to go to court you will need to attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (called a MIAM) to find out about mediation and other non-court options.  The court expects parties to find out about and consider engaging in mediation.  Even after court proceedings have commenced the court will consider adjourning the court process to allow mediation to take place.

When considering mediation the mediator will explain how the process works and assess the suitability of your case. 

What does the mediator do?

When considering the arrangements for children the mediator will explain legal principles and what generally helps children when their parents separate.  The mediator will look to put the needs of the children above any other issue and they will help with parenting communication and in looking at the practical and other arrangements.

If a financial settlement is required the mediator will assist in gathering the financial and other relevant information and they will explain legal principles.  The high threshold of financial disclosure and transparency is required in mediation as in the court process.  When generating ideas and options with you the mediator will assist in looking at workable and equitable financial solutions for you both.

The advantages of mediation

Mediation works.  

Even in challenging, high conflict or complex financial or children cases mediation may be suitable.  It has rigour.

It enables issues to be resolved in a cost efficient and timely fashion.  Prolonged and unresolved conflict is damaging for children.  Progressing through the courts is an unattractive, slow and expensive alternative.  

Mediation enables couples to shape their own destiny.  Research shows that couples are more likely to find a mediated settlement more acceptable than one imposed upon them by the court.

How do I find a mediator?

The Family Mediation Council (FMC) sets standards for family mediation and you can find details of your local family mediator on their website.  

Karen Barham, FMCA Mediator & Parenting Coordinator Moore Barlow solicitors