Solicitor Paul Linsell, in our leading Family Law team, explains what family mediation is and how it can be used when a relationship breaks down.
Mediation is an effective process for resolving disputes and family mediation is that process in the context of a relationship breakdown or other family matter.
The mediation sessions bring you and the other party together to help identify the issues that need to be addressed. This will often include sorting out the arrangements for any children and dealing with financial matters, but can also include any other issues that you feel can usefully be addressed. Mediation is not counselling and it is not designed to explore whether the relationship itself can continue. Rather than dealing with the emotional impact of the relationship breakdown, it is instead focussed on managing the practical arrangements that must be addressed. The mediation process then provides a forum for you to focus on tackling these issues, to try to reach resolutions that work for both of you and the wider family.
Mediation is a voluntary process and it is suitable if you wish to retain control over the decisions that will affect your life. It encourages couples to work together to find appropriate ways forward, despite the differences of opinion that they may have. Mediation is different from the two of you having direct discussions, as you will be assisted by the mediator. The mediator is there to keep the discussions focussed and productive. The mediator is neutral and is not there to take sides or to offer advice. Instead, it is the role of the mediator to assist you in collating the information needed and to help you generate possible solutions. The aim is to help you make informed choices about which of the various options which are open to each of you may be best for you. Many people who engage in mediation will obtain advice from a solicitor alongside the process and you will be encouraged to do so at various stages.
The negotiations that take place within mediation are without prejudice, meaning that you should feel free to propose solutions safe in the knowledge that you will not be prejudiced if court proceedings later become necessary. Due to the without prejudice nature of the mediation process, you will usually be referred to solicitors to document any mutually agreeable solutions. The solicitors can then ensure that binding agreements, which are appropriately enforceable, are in place. Again, the mediator is there to offer assistance and guidance on when this may be appropriate.
The mediation process is flexible and can be adapted to suit your specific needs. Typically, mediation sessions will last approximately one hour and thirty minutes, but some people prefer longer or shorter sessions. The number of sessions required will depend on the number and complexity of the issues involved, but it is common for there to be around three to five sessions.
If mediation is not successful, you can still explore other avenues for resolving the issues, including court proceedings. However, judges generally now expect parties to have considered mediation before court applications are made. Many people will also find that mediation helps focus on the issues to be addressed, even if the assistance of the court is then required to resolve such issues.
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This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.