A mediator is a neutral third party who is specially trained to help you reach an agreement in a dispute. They will meet with you both separately (and sometimes together) in a safe and supportive environment, taking into account your needs, concerns and interests. They will assist you to negotiate an outcome that you both find acceptable, or where possible agree on a ‘memorandum of understanding’ to take away from the mediation. Mediation is a much quicker, less expensive and far more dignified alternative to resolving a dispute through the courts. It can be arranged at any stage of a dispute, including before proceedings are issued, although the earlier the better, to try and avoid costly legal costs, and escalating tensions between the parties.
Family mediation is particularly effective in helping couples to decide on future arrangements for their children, but it can also be helpful in resolving financial issues such as divorce. If you are considering mediation we recommend that you consult a specialist family law solicitor first to ensure that the process is being used appropriately for your circumstances.
Mediation UK provides a wealth of information, legal guides and handouts, explaining each aspect of separation or divorce, which can all be extremely useful in mediation sessions. You can download these before your mediation or speak to your lawyer who can point you in the direction of what is available.
At the beginning of your mediation session, your mediator will explain the process and discuss with you both what it is that you hope to achieve from the day. This is commonly referred to as the ‘opening statement’ and whilst styles will vary, it is important that both parties have an opportunity to set out their case and their key priorities.
Throughout the mediation process, your mediator will help you identify areas where there are areas of agreement and disagreement, aiming to move from positional bargaining to ‘interest-based’ negotiations. They will also facilitate the disclosure process in which both parties will provide a full breakdown of their assets, income, future pensions and anything else that may be of value to them or effectively belong to them (e.g. children’s savings accounts).
The mediation process is private and confidential. Whatever is discussed or agreed cannot be used as evidence in court unless you are legally represented and sign a waiver allowing this. However, you should be aware that a Court Order can still be made which will supersede any agreement reached in mediation.
Most qualified mediators are solicitors or barristers and you can usually find one through your usual lawyer or through a specialist mediation organisation. The CMC runs a system of voluntary regulation for both civil/commercial and workplace mediators and providers which requires them to adhere to a Code of Conduct, be trained to acceptable industry standards and carry insurance. They also run a complaints procedure. Legal aid is available to help with the cost of mediation if you are on certain benefits or low incomes.