What is Family Mediation – An Introduction
Mediation is a cheaper, shorter and less litigious alternative to the family court system. It is aimed at building a workable system of communication between a couple once separated, that helps them agree on how to move forward with fundamental issues in their lives – issues concerning children, finances and property amongst other things.
- Mediation is a way of helping families reach decisions about what should happen after separation or divorce
- It gives couples a safe place to resolve their differences at their own pace with the help of an impartial mediator
- It is an alternative to the more traditional legal approach of instructing lawyers or going to court
- It gives couples the opportunity to speak directly to each other and explain their concerns and needs in the presence of a professional and impartial mediator
- It recognises that parents are the best people to make decisions concerning their own children
- It leaves the decision-making to the family and not to an outsider
Family mediation has 4 principles:
- It is voluntary – courts expect families to attempt mediation before litigation begins but no-one can be forced to mediate
- It is a confidential process (with two very limited exceptions*) and proposals put forward in mediation cannot be referred to in legal proceedings
- The mediator is impartial – mediators do not take sides. They also do not give legal advice but give the couple the information necessary to make wise decisions
- The clients ultimately make their own decisions – mediators are merely there to help facilitate effective communication between couples so they can reach agreements that make the most sense given their unique circumstances. Any agreement only becomes legally binding once it has been made into a Consent Order by solicitors and stamped by the court.
*There are two exceptions to confidentiality: One involves financial disclosure, where the courts are able to call on financial information provided during mediation and use it to form a judgment. The other is where a mediator is concerned that a child is at risk of serious harm and therefore has a duty to report it to the appropriate social services.
Who is Mediation for?
Family mediation is for anyone involved in a family conflict that needs to be resolved. Disagreements may be about children, parenting, finances, or general struggles to make good decisions at a difficult time.
People who will benefit from Mediation include:
- Husbands and wives who are separating or divorcing
- Couples who have been cohabiting and are now separating
- Parents who divorced or separated some time ago and are having continuing issues with their ex-partner about raising their child or children
- Parents of children who have never lived together but need to resolve issues concerning their child or children
- Civil partners who are separating
- Extended family members who have issues that need resolving (for example grandparents and a son or daughter-in-law)
- Family mediation is voluntary. The only requirement is that both sides are willing to mediate
Benefits of Family Mediation
When a relationship breaks down, Family Mediation is often the quickest and the cheapest way of resolving issues that arise.
Although the meetings can be challenging, the process is empowering for couples who are guided to communicate effectively, and take responsibility for the ultimate decisions reached about how to move forward. Through Mediation, clients take ownership of both the process and the resulting agreement.
There are important emotional benefits to mediation. It offers a safe, neutral and confidential environment in which separating couples can be heard and understood. Mediation gives clients the opportunity to part with dignity and to engage with the next stage of life with positivity and confidence. Through Mediation, a couple are able to leave behind the struggles of the past and forge ahead in a new light of mature, positive communication. This approach is especially beneficial for the children of separating or divorcing parents.
At Sage Mediation we are child-focused. The most important consideration in any discussion will be the welfare of your children. We will seek to help you make a smooth transition from parenting together in one household, to create a good working relationship as parents who live apart. This is an important process and brings benefits to the whole family.
Compared to court proceedings, family mediation is:
- Less acrimonious
- Has better emotional outcomes
- More child-focused
How to start
The first step in the process is to book a MIAM – a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. These meetings are separate, and are the only occasion when the mediator will meet separately with each partner. This meeting will give you a clear idea about the process, and is an opportunity to explain your position, your worries and goals for moving forward.
Once a MIAM has taken place, both partners will need to confirm their intention to attend the mediation sessions. If financial matters are an issue, each partner will need to fill in a detailed Financial Disclosure Booklet. This is similar to a court form E which the courts will ask a divorcing and separating couple to fill in.
Issues are resolved in family mediation far more quickly than through the courts. A typical mediation covering issues of finance and children will be concluded in 3-5 sessions, over 3 months. A typical family case resolved through the court system will take between 6 – 18 months
Legal aid for MIAMS
You might be eligible for Legal Aid for a MIAM but this depends on your capital and income. If one of the parties involved in the dispute is assessed as being eligible for Legal Aid, then the first mediation session for the private fee-paying client will be covered by Legal Aid.
In order to qualify for Legal Aid a person has to have a weekly disposable income within the allowable limit. This is calculated by taking net income and deducting maintenance paid, housing costs, child minding costs, work expenses and fixed rate allowances for dependents.
Legal Aid and Mediation Costs
If one client is eligible for Legal Aid then the Legal Aid Agency meets the entire cost of his or her mediation and that client is not required to repay any mediation costs at any time. If one of the clients is not eligible, then the introductory assessment meeting and the first mediation session is also free to that person, but no further meetings are covered.
There is an eligibility calculator on the www.gov.uk website or go straight to: www.legal-aid-checker.justice.gov.uk
If you think you may be eligible please go to: www.legal-aid-checker.justice.gov.uk