If you are attending mediation to discuss issues relating to relationship breakdown, separation or divorce, you might be wondering what this involves.
A mediator is an independent person that is trained to assist you in identifying an agenda and help you address any issues identified through discussion. A mediator can meet you and your former partner together, or separately. They can also employ a technique called ‘shuttle mediation’ where you remain in separate rooms but this is not widely used as face to face mediation can be a great deal more successful.
‘An experienced mediator can help ease communication and facilitate discussion between you both’ explains Angie Brown, family law expert and FMCA Accredited Mediator with Mooney Everett Solicitors in Ormskirk, Lancashire. They can help address issues to do with your children, financial division of assets or maintenance payments. A mediator is neutral and unlike your solicitor will not provide you with legal advice or advocate your position. Although as a practising Family Lawyer and Accredited Mediator, Angie explains the value of a mediator being able to provide legal information within the sessions.
Having someone neutral and impartial involved can be especially important when you have children, as it helps to keep the lines of communication open and respectful. Angie says “Remember that you are going to be parents forever, even when layers and courts go away. You will have to communicate over day-to-day issues such as homework and holidays, and for key milestones, such as learning to drive, graduation or marriage.”
In most cases, if you cannot reach a conclusion with your former partner amicably then before a family dispute goes to court it is a requirement to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM).
Remember that you are going to be parents forever, even when layers and courts go away.
The Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM)
This first assessment meeting is with an accredited mediator who will explain how mediation works. Both parties are expected to attend this, but it does not have to be at the same time. The MIAM will occur at a neutral venue and, although your solicitor will not be present, the mediator will communicate any updates and progress to your solicitor.
You will discuss your particular circumstances to decide if mediation will be right for you and the mediator will carry out a risk based assessment as well. If it is appropriate to proceed, then the mediator will let you know how many sessions of mediation are likely to be needed, outline the costs, and explore if you would be entitled to legal aid funding.
Deciding whether to proceed with mediation
If you decide that mediation is not appropriate for you, then the mediator will sign a form called a MIAM Certificate to confirm that you have considered mediation. This is needed before your solicitor can issue court proceedings.
If you both decide to proceed with mediation, then an appointment will be organised for your first mediation session.
What happens during the mediation sessions?
Both you and your former partner or spouse can attend the mediation together and will discuss in advance practical arrangements for the first joint session with you both beforehand. Progressing with mediation is a voluntary process and both parties have to be willing to attend. You should expect sessions to last between one and two hours. The number of sessions needed will depend on your circumstances. Your mediator will have provided you with an indication of the number of expected sessions at the outset.
Mediation is not counselling and is not designed to reconcile your relationship problems. The aim of mediation is to facilitate discussion between you and your former spouse or partner with a view to you creating your own solutions. This is far preferable to a Court making decisions for you both, where it can be costly and often made by a Judge who may never have met you or your family before and could come to a decision that neither of you would in fact have chosen.
All discussions during mediation will remain confidential and will not be disclosed without permission.
If no resolution can be achieved through mediation then the mediator can sign the court forms to enable you to proceed with an application to court.
How are the decisions formalised?
It is important to note that your mediator will not make a judgement about what should happen. They are impartial and do not act for either party.
If you are uncertain of the implications of a particular decision or option, then you can seek advice from a solicitor throughout the course of on-going mediation sessions.
Following mediation, the Mediator can draw up a Memorandum, of Understanding, which is a document setting out any conclusions and how you both arrived at them. Although, it does not bind you in any way. This can be taken to your solicitor who would advise you on the terms of any agreement and draft the paperwork to ensure it is legally binding if you were then advised to proceed.
Who pays for mediation?
Normally each party pays equally towards the costs of mediation. However, it is possible to agree a different split in costs, for example, if one party earns significantly more than the other party.