Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution service that aims to help separating couples reach important decisions about all aspects of their separation in a non confrontational way. The aim of mediation is to allow couples to talk through issues in a relaxed setting with the help and guidance of a trained mediator.
Issues such as divorce, reaching a financial agreement, property issues and resolving arrangements for children are all often discussed and resolved via the mediation process. Some mediators also provide a service for a child to be consulted about their future. This only happens if a mediator feels it is suitable and if the child is of an appropriate age. Mediation of this nature can be helpful in many ways as it allows the child’s wishes and feelings to be obtained and reported back to the parents.
Mediation usually takes place over the course of several one hour sessions depending on the complexity of the issues. The meetings take place with the couple and the mediator present. This normally takes place with everyone in the same room. In some situations where couples are uneasy sitting face to face, mediation can take place on a “shuttle” basis, where the couple sit in separate rooms and the mediator goes back and forth.
Mediators are not able to give legal advice. It is therefore important for couples going through mediation to have solicitors who can advise them as the process continues. Solicitors do not attend the mediation meetings. Most mediators keep the couple and their solicitors up to date with the outcome of each mediation session. This provides clarity and ensures that each party has a record of what was agreed, what needs to be done for the next meeting and what will happen in between meetings.
If mediation is successful and an agreement is reached, the mediator will prepare a memorandum of understanding, which the parties sign. A memorandum of understanding is not legally binding. It is the Solicitors job to prepare any orders that might be required as a result of the memorandum of understanding.
There are many benefits of mediation;-
- It allows discussion and agreement directly between the parties;
- It helps to keep cost and time to a minimum;
- It can avoid the necessity of a court application;
- Legal aid is still available for mediation for those who financially qualify;
- It allows couples to make decisions about their lives rather than handing the control over to a court;
- It can help to maintain communication between couples who have separated.
From April 2014 it became a requirement for people to attend an initial meeting with a mediator before issuing any family court application. The Court will not process an application unless there is evidence that the applicant has attended this meeting. It is only in limited circumstances that the requirement to attend mediation can be avoided, such as domestic violence issues or applications of an urgent nature.
Referrals to mediation can be made directly or by a solicitor. Our solicitors in the family team at Cartwright King are members of Resolution. This is a national organisation who seeks to promote the resolution of family difficulties in a non confrontational way. Mediation is one of the key methods to achieving this.
Mediation is not always appropriate and does not work in some cases. This is where the expertise of solicitors becomes important to help couples resolve the difficulties faced during separation as quickly and amicably as possible away from the mediation process by methods such as negotiation, round tables meetings and court applications.