The breakdown of a relationship is rarely easy but, in my experience, most separating couples welcome the chance to reach an amicable agreement through dialogue, though they often need some help.
This is the beauty of the family mediation process. As a mediator, I give people the chance to explore options and reach mutual decisions on their future. The family mediation process has nothing to do with reconciliation or going over the past as a therapist would.
First, I assess whether mediation is suitable as it is not appropriate in every case. I also check that no-one is being pressured into mediation. Once satisfied, both parties then sign an “agreement to mediate” which essentially sets out the rules.
Although typically couples attend between two and five sessions, my clients choose their own process. Significantly, costs are mostly fixed fee and people usually decide to divide this between them equally when Legal Aid is not available. Both parties can seek their own legal advice throughout the process, as my role is impartial throughout.
I often come up with solutions which may not have been considered by the parties or their solicitors. The benefit of also being a family lawyer is that I can help move through deadlock and assist with practical solutions within the parameters of what a court would consider.
A crucial part to the mediation process is that anything said in mediation is absolutely confidential and without prejudice – so people can speak freely.
Discussions generally focus on future regular payments from one to the other, and/or who the children will live with and/or the division of property/money.
Couples are asked to exchange financial documents including income, debts, assets and liabilities.
Once arrangements are decided – for example how children will split their time – a formal mediator document is drawn up. If arrangements are agreed about money and property, it is sensible to formalise this with a court order.
The beauty of mediation is that it can take place at any stage in the separation process – even on a discrete point and even if the parties have already begun court proceedings.
I believe that it is a positive choice and a chance to resolve family matters without setting foot in a court building.