Families and divorce

Family mediation: A complete guide

What is family mediation, family mediator case study

Even in the most challenging circumstances, family mediation can resolve disputes when a relationship breaks down. It provides a framework for couples to reach an amicable agreement - and avoid a long, costly court case.

Read our family mediation case study

Difficulty in a relationship is one of the top causes of major stress. Anyone struggling with separation or divorce knows the impact that it can have on you and the other people in your family.  Mediation is a process which can be used to reduce conflict and find a resolution – potentially more quickly and with less stress than by other means. 

What is family mediation?

If you’re going through a divorce or separation (relationship breakdown), but cannot agree on how to split your assets or how to share the responsibility for your children, a mediator can help. They will work with you and your ex-partner to help you both communicate more effectively and to try and reach a solution. The straightforward and friendly way in which mediation takes place, means it is likely to result in both people feeling they have been listened to.

How does family mediation work?

A trained mediator talks to each of you, separately at first, to understand fully what each of you would like to achieve. We can help you decide whether family mediation may be suitable, and give you information about a number of methods to resolve disputes. The mediator is independent and neutral and will focus on enabling you both to communicate what you want to say and then move on to meet together, with the mediator present in the room. Their aim is to help you to find a fair resolution that you can both agree upon. The kind of issues on which a mediator can help resolve conflict include:

As well as listening to you, a mediator will set out how you and your ex-partner will work together at the mediation sessions, so that you can both speak to each other with respect, with a view to keeping things calm and constructive. The mediator can then record this information and give each of you a copy; this gives each of you reassurance that both your opinions have been heard and documented.

You don’t have to go to a mediator to resolve issues arising out of separation, but if you do end up going to Court, you usually have to show evidence that you have already tried mediation. There are some exemptions – that is situations where you are not required to have tried mediation but the government encourage families to use mediation, rather than the adversarial court process. Examples of the current exemptions are:

  • allegations of domestic abuse (risk of safety or risk of life)
  • if the safety or well-being of a child appears to be in danger
  • if the dispute is about money and one of the parties is bankrupt
  • if there is an agreement and the two of you are not in dispute
  • if you or your ex-partner usually lives abroad.

Call our specialist solicitors on 0808 231 1320

Benefits of mediation

It’s often a good idea to at least explore mediation as an option because there are important benefits which could make things easier for you, such as:

  • you get to choose what is important to be discussed
  • the timings are chosen by you
  • you make the final decisions, rather than a judge. If you go to Court, a judge will make the decisions, which you will then have to abide by, whether you want to or not
  • it is often quicker, taking weeks rather than months, as is often the case with other means of resolution
  • it can be better value for money than other means of resolution.

Three stages of mediation

Before you go to mediation

During the first session (which is known as a MIAM - Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) you will usually meet with your mediator one-to-one and they will explain the mediation process and assess whether mediation could work for you and your ex-partner.  The mediator will also give you information about other dispute resolution processes available.

During mediation

After you have both attended an individual meeting, there will be a first joint meeting with the mediator, which both you and your ex-partner attend together.  The mediator will support you and your partner to talk constructively and encourage you to start looking at options and ideas. 

If you’re trying to reach an agreement about money and/or property, you’ll have to fill out a financial disclosure form, which covers: 

  • your income
  • living costs
  • money in the bankor other savings
  • debts you owe
  • pensions
  • property you own.

It’s important that you and your ex-partner are honest when you talk about your finances. If your ex-partner discovers that you have not disclosed all of your money, they can take you to Court to change any arrangement.

Hopefully, in this way, you will find a happy medium and a resolution to the dispute. This workable solution can become part of a legal document. While your mediator will most likely have knowledge of some legal issues regarding relationships (especially if you use a solicitor-mediator like those at Tees), your mediator cannot give any legal advice. However, they will:

  • listen to both your points of view
  • help create a calm atmosphere in which you can both express your views 
  • provide general legal information to you both where appropriate
  • suggest practical steps for resolution.

If there are children involved, the mediator will normally focus on what’s best for the health and well-being of the children.

At the end of your mediation

You will both be presented with a ‘memorandum of understanding’ which is a document setting out the basis of the arrangement you have reached as a solution. However, if your case involves money or property it’s a good idea to take it to a solicitor and ask them to turn it into a ‘consent order’. This is an order which sets out the arrangements and is confirmed by the Court so that it becomes legally binding.  If the arrangements are about children, these can be recorded in a "parenting plan".

Is mediation legally binding?

The agreements you make and the documents that are created are not legally binding. Mediation is a voluntary process which gives couples breaking up, the opportunity for an amicable agreement to help them move forward. However, you can choose to make your agreements legally binding by asking a solicitor to draft a consent order which will outline the terms which were agreed upon during your mediation sessions. This consent order can then be used as a legal document during your divorce and if you go to Court it will be given to the judge prior to your Court hearing.

What is the cost of mediation?

There is not a set cost for mediation. The price is dependent on the number of sessions, the context of the settlement and the fees the mediator chooses to charge. However, mediation is much more financially viable than going to court and often results in a much more amicable arrangement between both parties.  So the relatively low cost is usually well worth it.

If you can’t reach an arrangement through mediation

If mediation is not successful there are other options including arbitration. The first thing you should do is contact a specialist solicitor. 

Mediation case study

Abigail and Graham were referred to mediation by their solicitors. Feelings were running high, and Graham had recently moved out of the house which was owned jointly. Each felt angry and upset about the behaviour of the other. They saw no going back in terms of their marriage. Each had very different views as to how a financial settlement might be concluded fairly. They had 2 children ages 15 and 8.

Problems faced

In early sessions, there were heated disagreements about the arrangements for the children.

Graham thought the house should be sold straight away and any profit from the sale be divided equally to give him an opportunity to buy somewhere to live. Abigail felt if this happened, she would not be able to buy a house. She wanted to stay in the house with the children. It seemed that there was very little in terms of common ground. Abigail’s income was lower than Graham’s. This type of situation bore all the hallmarks of a case which could have been set to be a long and expensive battle, in court or through solicitors on children’s issues and finance.

Dispute resolution: Tees' solution

Over a course of 5 sessions (1.5 hours each) in mediation with our experienced mediator, Graham and Abigail were assisted to identify their main objectives and interests. The mediator guided them through a full process of financial disclosure, which brought clarity on their liquid assets, property, pensions, incomes and borrowing capacities. The mediator helped by letting them know about financial and legal advisers who could give expert advice tailored to their situation and a counsellor when appropriate.  This brought Graham and Abigail to a position of feeling more informed and in control.

In the sessions, it became clear that despite their strongly held differences, Abigail and Graham both had a mutual interest in their children’s stability and welfare and this common thread then carried them through to co-operate. The mediator assisted them with road-test options and with a better understanding of their options and alternatives. With the information and an array of options, proposals then emerged which both were happy with.

Divorce Mediation: The outcome Tees achieved

  • Financial: a proposal was reached which gave Abigail the ability to stay in the house with the children and gave Graham the use of liquid savings as a deposit to buy a home. The proposal was for the house to be sold when the children were through their education to ensure they had a home. After negotiation Graham and Abigail agreed on how to divide the equity on the eventual sale, which was an unequal split in Abigail’s favour. A provision was agreed upon for child support, so the Child Maintenance Service did not need to be involved.
  • pension-sharing arrangement was agreed upon.
  • Children’s arrangements: Abigail and Graham were able to agree on a routine for their children’s time with each of them.
  • The divorce – Abigail and Graham agreed within the mediation on the basis for their divorce which cut out the need for them to engage in solicitors’ correspondence over this.

We’re here to help

Our family and divorce lawyers are based in:

EssexBrentwoodChelmsford, and Saffron Walden
HertfordshireBishop's Stortford and Royston

But we can help you wherever you are in England and Wales.

Chat to the Author, Clare Pilsworth

Partner, Families and Divorce, Cambridge office

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