Separating from a partner is traumatic, painful and, most likely, very expensive on your wallet.
Traditionally, separating partners rush off and instruct lawyers. Before you know it – and if you are not careful – you may unwittingly launch into hostile correspondence between solicitors inflaming issues, creating more problems than solutions and potentially ruining what may already be a fragile relationship with your estranged partner.
There are various ways of resolving matters amicably effectively and retaining ownership of the negotiation process. One such example is family law mediation.
Family law mediation has been around for a long time. It is not used as widely and comprehensively as some people may think, which is a shame. A family law mediator can be a lawyer who has trained subsequently to become a mediator, or they may have had a different career path but have then gone on to train to be a mediator.
Family mediation is a process which involves parties engaging with a professionally trained mediator who will attempt to work things out with you. These include arrangements for children and finances following separation.
Mediation is not counselling and is not a process for exploring reconciliation. It can also be helpful when arrangements that you may have made in the past need to change because of some unexpected event.
The great thing about mediation is that it helps you stay in control and in the driving seat. It is not compulsory and nobody will make you do anything that you do not want to do.
Mediators are not able to give advice – even if your mediator is a lawyer. Instead, mediators facilitate an environment that will help you and your partner find a solution which works for you both. The mediator is able to give you a lot of information and on the basis that you can agree outcomes will explain to you how you can make your agreements legally binding.
The process should be less stressful than the traditional route of legal letter writing or going to court. It can be far quicker too. As a result of the pandemic, courts have massive backlogs. Mediation offers a way of resolving matters at pace and, with it, significant cost savings.
Mediation is not mandatory, as some people think in England and Wales. While there are exceptions it is, however, necessary to have an initial consultation with a mediator before embarking upon court proceedings in any event. Unless there are particular reasons why such a meeting should not be held e.g. because of an emergency, the first meeting with a mediator is called a mediator information and assessment meeting (MIAM). That would just be between you and the mediator.
This MIAM meeting will usually last for up to an hour. It gives you an opportunity to explain your situation to the mediator and the issues that you feel need to be decided. At the meeting the mediator will tell you about how mediation works along with other alternative options for reaching agreement. At the end of the MIAM meeting the mediator will have assessed whether he or she thinks mediation is right for you and that it is appropriate and healthy for you to proceed through to mediation. The mediator can also give you information about other services which may be helpful and supportive.
If, following that session, you are interested in mediation, the mediator will reach out to your partner and offer them a MIAM session.
Mediation can cover both money on separation but also importantly children issues.
Once mediation has begun, there will follow a series of meetings.
Mediation should not be in isolation to legal advice. It is always sensible to have instructed a lawyer to help you plan for and talk through your options so that you are able to go to mediation meetings informed. It is still a lot cheaper as you will be using your lawyer sparingly. Remember; a mediator cannot give you legal advice, although in certain circumstances they can give you neutral legal information about the processes.
All mediation discussions are off the record or ‘without prejudice’ as they are called. If you reach an agreement through mediation, it will be your lawyers who will subsequently draft legal documents to ensure that what you have agreed can subsequently become legally binding.