The media has recently been highlighting that Family Mediation is quicker and cheaper than going to court which I agree with but what are the other practical benefits?
Maintaining communication and continuing to co-operate as parents with Family Mediation
If children are involved and are also young it is going to be necessary to still talk to your former spouse or partner for issues such as the start times and end times of contact with your child, contact time during the holidays and special occasions, school activities, medical treatments, future schooling and the way maintenance should be paid.
The mediator is not there to provide solutions as these need to be determined by both of you but will listen to both of the parties and be flexible to discuss what would be best for all of the people concerned.
In one mediation session I have been involved with it came to light that one of the parties claimed they had not been receiving maintenance but the other party had set up a standing order to the wrong account and after this was discovered during the session communication between the parties improved dramatically.
Reducing hostility, bitterness and misunderstanding with Family Mediation
Mediators are not allowed to give legal advice but if the parties are to divorce it can be agreed during the session what fact the Petitioner is going to use in the petition and what the particulars are to be used.
In my role as a solicitor it is amazing at the amount of Petitions which are filed at court and then the Respondent asks for the petition to be amended after it has been issued which incurs a further court fee and the solicitor’s time for amending the petition.
If what is used in the petition is agreed early on this can put relations on a better platform when moving on to discuss the financial settlement and / or children arrangements.
Focusing on the children’s needs for parents to co-operate as much as possible with Family Mediation
If both parties who are using mediation can’t reach a solution for one of the issues which involved the child e.g. future school being private or public they may agree for the mediator to see the child in a separate session.
The child consultation enables the child to have a voice privately and confidentially to a mediator trained in Direct Children Consultation.
In Court proceedings the Court can ask for a Cafcass Officer to produce a report on the child’s wishes but there is sometimes a long waiting time for to report to be produced.
Avoiding a sense of winners and losers by reaching an agreed solution which have some benefit for all concerned.
Where a financial settlement is being agreed the mediator is there to be neutral and help the parties reach a balanced settlement.
At the same time if there is a particular asset e.g. a pension which one party feels particularly attached to the mediator works with the parties in a creative way so that if one party is to retain their pension the other assets can be divided in a way whereby the other party will receive a greater share of another asset.
For house contents which cannot be divided by agreement I usually ask for the parties to bring a proposed list and then the chattels can be divided in the following session. This often tends to be more cost effective than writing several letters through correspondence or having to return to court to decide on the division of items which can often outweigh the chattels value!
Mediation is not appropriate for every situation. For example where there is domestic violence, a power imbalance or where one party does not want to separate.
Not every mediation will complete the process from the initial meeting to having an agreement drawn up as mediation is voluntary and either party can opt out at any stage but I think that mediation should be attempted before any children or financial application is issued.
Any agreement drawn up in mediation will not be binding but it can then be sent to a solicitor if this is what has been agreed. The agreement can then be draft into an order which can then be filed at court which will provide both of the parties with more legal certainty.
Austin Chessell is an accredited Family and Child Mediator at FAMIA (www.famia.co.uk) across Inner and Greater London. Austin is also a Professional Practice Consultant.
Austin is a Collaborative Family Solicitor at Feltons Solicitors in Knightsbridge.