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The Family Mediation Process

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

The family mediation process is a way for separating couples to achieve a settlement without the need for formal legal proceedings.

Both parties work with a specially trained family mediator to reach agreement on issues including children, finance and property.

This article will outline how the process works – further information is available from Wilson Browne who have a proven track record of helping families resolve their differences through family mediation.

The mediation process has a number of advantages when compared to a court hearing.

  • Family mediation is usually much cheaper than going through disputed legal proceedings.
  • It is quicker (particularly with the backlog caused to the court system by the Covid-19 pandemic), enabling both parties to put the separation behind them and get on with their lives.
  • The sessions are more flexible and can be arranged to fit in with work and childcare commitments.
  • Whereas court hearings have an adversarial nature, the mediation process puts the emphasis on the parties working together to find a solution. This results in a much less stressful experience and makes it easier for the parties to subsequently maintain positive relations – crucial if they share parental responsibilities or business interests.
  • Unlike with a court hearing, the family mediation process is confidential. This can make the experience less stressful for the parties and their families and also help them to move on with their lives subsequently. People may also be more willing to talk fully about their feelings in the knowledge that what they say will remain private.

The four key principles of family mediation

  1. The family mediation process is voluntary. There must be agreement between the parties and the family mediator that it is a appropriate way of resolving differences.
  2. The mediation process is entirely confidential, except where a child or vulnerable adult may be at risk or the mediator believes a criminal offence may be committed.
  3. The mediator is impartial and acts to provide both parties with the environment, guidance and confidence to find their own solutions. The individuals must have trust and confidence in the mediator if the process is to be successful.
  4. Unlike in court proceedings, there is no imposed solution; the process empowers the parties to find their own agreement.

Can the family mediation process resolve disputes involving children?

Mediation can be a highly effective way of determining future arrangements concerning a couple’s children.

Such cases are fraught with emotion and the confrontational nature of formal legal proceedings, with points being exchanged by lawyers in front of a judge, can deepen divisions and make the experience extremely stressful.

The ill feeling that results may continue long after the court hearing has ended and make it difficult for the parties to move on and co-operate over future childcare arrangements.

The family mediation process removes much of the stress and tension and provides a safe, neutral environment for both parents to focus on what is best for their children.

Working through the process together, with everything discussed remaining confidential, also makes it easier for the parties to maintain a cordial and constructive relationship after divorce.

With the agreement of both parents, it is also possible for children (usually aged 10 years and over) to meet with the family mediator in separately – providing them with the opportunity to express their own wishes and feelings, and deciding what they would wish their parents to be told about those.

Who is the family mediator?

The family mediator is a specially trained expert in family issues who acts impartially to help couples identify areas of dispute and explore possible solutions.

Key responsibilities of the family mediator include:

  • Ensuring that the family mediation process offers a safe and supportive environment where both parties feel confident in expressing their views
  • Steering discussions so that all the necessary issues are addressed
  • Asking questions to aid discussion
  • Summarising the comments of both parties to ensure there is a shared understanding
  • Summing up what has been agreed in each session – and what is still to be resolved
  • Providing expert, impartial guidance on family law
  • Signposting parties to information in other specialist areas (e.g. pensions)

How does the family mediation process work?

A preliminary step when considering family mediation is to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) where the mediator will explain more about the process.

Each party will meet the mediator on their own at this stage and, after the sessions, a decision will be agreed on whether family mediation is the right way to proceed. Figures from the Family Mediation Council (FMC) show that, nationally, around three-quarters of people who attend an MIAM go on to take part in the full mediation process.

In the majority of circumstances, the law requires that parties must, in any case, attend a MIAM before they can apply to have their case heard in court.

What are the five steps of mediation?

If the MIAM stage proves positive, and all parties have signed an agreement to mediate, the process then moves on to full sessions with the family mediator.

Wilson Browne can host meetings at our offices in Northampton, Kettering and Higham Ferrers.

There is the option of both face-to-face sessions or they can be held remotely with an online whiteboard facility available for participants.

The mediation process consists of five steps:

  1. Introduction: The mediator explains further to the parties about how the mediation process works and responds to any questions and concerns. This stage gives the mediator the chance to make a preliminary assessment of the issues involved. The parties will agree a timetable and agenda for moving forward – with much more flexibility over the schedule is possible than with a court hearing.
  2. Information: The parties both provide all the information that is relevant to the case – this can include legal, financial and property details. The mediator may ask for additional information if required and will also be able to offer guidance on how to access it.
  3. Communication: The parties outline their respective aims and objectives, making it clear what they want to achieve from the mediation process. This is a key part of mediation which leads to the detailed discussions that follow. The mediator will ensure that all parties are able to express their views fully without interruption to ensure that they feel engaged in the mediation process.
  4. Discussion: The parties and the mediator work together to identify and explore possible solutions. The family mediation process replaces the adversarial nature of the court with a commitment to working together to find common ground.
  5. Resolution: The parties reach a settlement that provides a solid platform for them to move on with their lives. They can ask the family mediator to arrange for this agreement to be made legally binding by the court. In practice, however, many families, with the trust and understanding engendered by the mediation process, do not feel the need for this. The flexible nature of family mediation means that the process can be resumed at a future date if circumstances change – for example if either party feels that new arrangements are needed as the children grow older.

Figures from the FMC show that, nationally, mediation has a success rate of over 70 percent. Even where a full resolution is not possible, the sessions often lead to agreement on some issues, simplifying any subsequent legal hearings.

How long does the mediation process take?

A major advantage of the mediation process is that it is usually much quicker than formal legal proceedings. Given that court proceedings can be very stressful for both parties and their family, the streamlined nature of the mediation process can be of great benefit at such a difficult period in people’s lives.

The parties have the chance to decide how long each session and how many sessions should take depending upon the range of issues to be discussed.

As well as allowing time for views to be aired, having several meetings provides time for reflection in between sessions and for possible solutions to be trialled in practice.

What if I receive papers for a court hearing but have not been to mediation?

In instances like this it is very important that you still attend the court hearing. If you do not the case could be heard in your absence and a legally-binding settlement imposed without you having had the chance to have your say.

The case could be going ahead without mediation because:

• The other party is exempt from mediation.
• They have attended a MIAM but they or the mediator have decided that mediation is not the best way to proceed.

If you would rather resolve the dispute through mediation, you should suggest this to the other party or their solicitor. You can also make your views known to the judge who will then decide whether the family mediation process is appropriate in your case.

Can the judge tell you to try mediation?

The judge may adjourn legal proceedings at any stage and invite to try and settle the dispute through mediation.

As mediation is voluntary, there is no obligation on you or the other party to take part in the process.

How much does family mediation cost?

The cost of a MIAM at Wilson Browne is £162 per person (including VAT). As the parties meet with the mediator separately, they will each be responsible for paying their own charge.

Should the parties agree to go ahead with the process, the mediator will explain about future charges, which will be split equally among the individuals.

Where can I find out more about family mediation?

Edward Rawlins, the head of Wilson Browne’s Family Mediation Team, has more than 20 years’ experience in family law. His team have a successful track record of helping individuals resolve disputes by enabling them to work in a constructive and respectful manner.

This can bring peace of mind in both the short and long run as parties often find it easier to maintain positive relationships having avoided the acrimony and division of a court hearing.

Our service follows the FMC Code of Practice for Family Mediators to provide a guarantee of our integrity and impartiality.

Please get in touch to find out more about how we can help you and your family.  Call 0800 088 6004 or fill in our online form.