There is a lot of information available about mediation and how it can help you reach an agreement without the need to go to court. It is a quick and cost-effective way of resolving disputes, often reaching a settlement far sooner than going through the courts. It is a collaborative process in which an impartial third party (the mediator) helps the two sides to identify and agree upon solutions that suit both of them. It allows both sides to control the outcome and is usually a much shorter and less stressful process than going through the courts.
A mediator is not legally qualified to give legal advice but they will have a wealth of experience, legal knowledge and the ability to reframe issues and assist parties to understand each other better. They will not take sides, make decisions or reveal confidences but they will ask questions to aid the negotiation and highlight areas of agreement and disagreement so that a balanced outcome can be reached. In family cases, they will also facilitate disclosure which is the process of providing a full breakdown of assets (including property, savings, future pensions and anything that may effectively be joint) and full expenditure to enable both parties to reach an equitable financial settlement.
You can attend mediation with or without your solicitor but they will usually not attend the sessions themselves. Instead, they will prepare you for mediation and provide you with information about your legal position and how a judge would likely approach the dispute in the event that it goes to court. This can give you the confidence to hold your ground in mediation and realise where you might need to compromise.
Depending on the type of dispute, mediation can be in person or over the telephone/internet and is normally held for around an hour. If children are involved the mediator will usually spend a longer time with them, perhaps up to an hour and a half. The mediation will usually be conducted in private rooms and all discussions are confidential.
After mediation you will usually be asked to produce a written agreement, known as a ‘memorandum of understanding’ for finances or a Parenting Plan for child arrangements. There will be a separate cost for these documents which are then shared between you. For finance mediations, the mediator will also produce an Open Financial Statement which can be used by your solicitors.
Mediation is a voluntary process and you cannot be forced to mediate although courts will often encourage couples to try it in the interests of saving time and money, reducing their caseload and avoiding unnecessary conflict for the couple involved. Mediation is not available in all disputes, for example, if there are concerns about safety or abuse. If you have any concerns about the mediation process please contact the Family Mediation Council. They have a range of information, legal guides and handouts that explain each area of the process. mediation uk