What to expect during mediation following separation
A mediator is an independent person that is trained and accredited to assist you in identifying the issues in dispute and help resolve these through discussion. Sometimes two mediators may be used, but more often than not just one mediator will be involved. A mediator can meet you and your former partner together, or separately. They can also arrange to meet you both at one time while you remain in separate rooms, and this is known as shuttle mediation, where the mediator will effectively shuttle between the two rooms to progress discussions. It is important that you are comfortable throughout the process and you will not be forced to sit together in one room if you do not wish to do so.
‘An experienced mediator can help ease communication and facilitate discussion between you both’ explains Melissa Jones, family law expert with IMD Solicitors who works between offices in London, Manchester and Birmingham. They can help you to reach agreement over issues to do with your children, financial division of assets or maintenance payments. A mediator is neutral and unlike your solicitor will not provide you with legal advice or advocate your position. It is therefore vital that you obtain advice from a solicitor in addition to the mediation process.
Having someone neutral and impartial involved can be especially important when you have children, as it helps to keep the lines of communication open and respectful. Remember that you are likely to have to speak with your former partner or spouse for many years to come, over day-to-day issues such as homework and holidays, and for key milestones, such as learning to drive, graduation or marriage.
In most cases, if you cannot reach agreement with your former partner amicably then before a family dispute goes to court it is a requirement to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM).
The Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM)
This first assessment meeting is with an accredited mediator who will explain how mediation works. Both parties are expected to attend this, but it does not have to be at the same time. The MIAM will occur at a neutral venue and, although your solicitor will not be present, the mediator will communicate any updates and progress to your solicitor.
You will discuss your particular circumstances to decide if mediation will be right for you. If it is, then the mediator will let you know how many sessions of mediation are likely to be needed, outline the costs, and explore if you would be entitled to legal aid funding.
Deciding whether to proceed with mediation
If you decide that mediation is not appropriate for you, then the mediator will sign a form to confirm that you have considered mediation. This is needed before your solicitor can issue court proceedings.
If you both decide to proceed with mediation, then an appointment will be organised for your first mediation session.
Before you attend your first session it is a good idea to jot down and prioritise the issues you hope to resolve, so that the most important matters can be discussed first. For mediation to be successful it is likely that compromises will have be to made on both sides. It is a good idea to try to think of two or three solutions that you believe would work in relation to each of the issues you are seeking to resolve. This gives scope for discussion and is more likely to lead to a positive outcome than having a rigid red line on certain points.
What happens during the mediation sessions?
Both you and your former partner or spouse can attend the mediation together, or a mediator can arrange to meet you separately if this will work best for your circumstances. Progressing with mediation is a voluntary process and both parties have to be willing to attend. If your former partner is living in a different location it is possible to arrange mediation via Skype. You should expect sessions to last between one and two hours. The number of sessions needed will depend on your circumstances. Your mediator will have provided you with an indication of the number of expected sessions at the outset.
It is normal for a mediator during the process to speak to both parties individually, normally in separate rooms or at separate times, to ensure that there is no risk of any harm, emotional or otherwise to either party.
Mediation is not counselling and will not be able to reconcile your relationship problems. The aim of mediation is to facilitate discussion between you and your former spouse or partner with a view to reaching an agreement. All discussions during mediation will remain confidential and will not be disclosed without permission.
If no resolution can be achieved through mediation then the mediator can sign the court forms to enable you to proceed with an application to court.
How are the decisions formalised?
It is important to note that your mediator will not make a judgement about what should happen. They are impartial and do not act for either party.
If you are uncertain of the implications of a particular decision or option, then you will need to seek advice from an experienced family lawyer who can advise on whether a course of action is in your best interests
Following mediation, if you have been able to come to an agreement then this should be formalised. This is done by your family solicitor who will give you advice on the terms of any agreement reached and draft the paperwork to ensure it is legally binding. This often involves an application to court to formalise the agreement in a court order.
Who pays for mediation?
Normally each party pays equally towards the costs of mediation. However, it is possible to agree a different split in costs, for example, if one party earns significantly more than the other party.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.