First of all, what is it? It’s not marriage counselling. It’s not about keeping couples together. And it’s not a quasi-court where you hand over control to the mediator who imposes decisions on you and your ex-partner about money or children. If you are breaking up, a trained mediator can help the two of you reach decisions. That’s mediation.
Conventionally, there will be a number of sessions in the mediator’s office with both of you present. But not always; I’ve held mediations using Skype and I’ve held mediations where the couple won’t sit in the same room. The meetings are “confidential” and you can’t use what’s been discussed if the process breaks down. You have to be civil and committed to finding a solution. However, it’s entirely voluntary so you can leave at any time. And that includes the mediator who can bring the mediation to an end if she or he thinks it’s just not working.
Could mediation work for you?
- Going to the Family Court is almost invariably a brutal experience with no winners. The administration is appalling and the quality of the judges patchy. Furthermore, you’re handing over control for decisions affecting your entire future to someone who doesn’t understand the dynamics of your family in the way that you and your partner do.
- Mediation enables the two of you to take control in a real sense. You set the agenda at the start of each meeting. This means, for example, that urgent issues that have cropped up can be dealt with straightaway without waiting for an exchange of carefully worded solicitors’ letters.
- This is an informal process and may provide a chance, albeit late in the day, to understand your partner a little better. You can acknowledge the pain they felt when they discovered your affair, or explain the corrosive damage caused to the relationship by your manipulative mother-in-law. It’s also an opportunity – surprisingly useful and restorative – to acknowledge each other’s love for the children and the fact that you both only want the best for them. I’ve had couples tell me that the meetings we’ve had together have given them a really firm foundation for their relationship for the future. There’s a phrase “separate but together” that sums it up well.
- One of the stages of family mediation is financial disclosure. You will both be asked to complete a financial information form – either a bespoke form or “Form E”, the form used by the Court. It’s an important part of the process. Everything else is confidential but, if it goes wrong and you end up in Court, this Form and the documents produced with it (bank statements/employment information etc.) will be “open” and available for the Court to take into account when considering your case.
- Mediation allows you to challenge dishonesty face to face. People can be shamed into truthfulness when looking into the eyes of someone who knows them only too well.
- Flexibility. It’s possible to structure the process to suit you. You can bring in a financial adviser, for example, or a family counsellor. You can have one mediator or two so that one mediator has a legal background and the other a therapeutic background. This often creates a better dynamic and it means the mediators can play to their own particular skillset.
- Mediation is cheaper than going to Court. Speaking very generally, and allowing for different changing rates round the country, a non-lawyer mediator will probably charge between £60 and £120 an hour and a lawyer mediator between £150 and £500. The advantage is, of course, that the fee is shared between the two of you rather than you each having to pay for your own solicitor.
By Philippa Dolan, partner at Collyer Bristow LLP