This is a question I am commonly asked by clients as a Solicitor. Being a Mediator as well, I am conscious that Mediation can offer separating couples a platform to ‘iron out’ their differences in a straight forward and direct way, with the assistance of an independent third party (the Mediator). There is no need to wait days on end (if, for instance, the solicitor on the other side isn’t as robust and swift as we are!) for a substantive response about the immediate arrangements for your children or your finances. Mediation can provide answers in a safe and structured environment and should be a method of resolution considered by all (providing the circumstances are right) separating parties.
So what is Mediation and how might is work for you? Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions;
What is Mediation?
Mediation brings together both parties to discuss any issues and arrangements that need to be made following the breakdown of a relationship. You essentially lead the way and the topics discussed will depend on what is most important to you and your particular circumstances. It essentially cuts out the middle man and allows you to put forward your ideas and views about a particular subject, face to face, without the fear that one party might exert control over the other/the situation. You can also have a ‘trial period’ of ideas to see how they might work in operation before a conclusion is reached.
Mediation is confidential and if an agreement is reached, a document will be prepared to confirm the agreement made. In respect of financial arrangements, it will be open for either party to consult a solicitor to draft the agreement into a Consent Order, which can then be filed with the Court for approval. Until an Order is made in this way, anything agreed via Mediation is not legally binding. Both parties can obtain legal advice alongside the mediation process to ensure what they are proposing is fair and reasonable.
Why should I bother if it is not legally binding?
Before making an application to the Court to decide on either the arrangements for a child or to settle the finances, it is a legal requirement that Mediation has to have been trialled before an application is made. The aim is to have only those cases which really cannot be resolved via negotiations in the court arena.
Trialling Mediation, providing both parties are entering with the intention of trying to reach a resolution and not just as a means to make an application to the court, often enables parties to remain more amicable through an already difficult period, which is often a more positive experience for the family as a whole. In circumstances where there are children concerned, it is likely both of you will need to continue to communicate until the children are adults meaning it could be quite tricky if you get off on the wrong foot.
What if I agree to something and then change my mind?
Nothing agreed during Mediation is legally binding, so you are free to change your mind if you so wish. Clearly, this is a plus or a negative depending on whether you are on the receiving end of the change. If you are the person on the receiving end, depending on the time lapse, it should be open to you to make a direct application to the Court for determination of the issue. Therefore, it does not necessarily bring you back to square one and the likelihood of changes being made are quite rare.
How long will it take?
The amount of sessions you need will depend entirely on your particular circumstances. You lead the discussion and what you would like to resolve, therefore, you could reach a satisfactory conclusion within two sessions or it could take several sessions. The timetable can be dictated by you and if it becomes apparent that an agreement is unlikely to be reached, the mediator should call it a day and recommend you seek legal advice.
How much will it cost?
Again, it is entirely dependant on how many sessions you have. As Mediation tends to benefit both parties, the cost is generally split equally between you. However, it is entirely down to you to agree alternative arrangements with your ex partner. Many Mediators publish their costs on their website. Mediation is generally one of the cheaper forms of resolution. As a guideline, Mayo Wynne Baxter currently charges £200 per hour plus VAT, to be divided between you, and most session last for approximately 1.5 hours.
How do I find a Mediator?
Mayo Wynne Baxter has several trained Mediators who are also Solicitors and understand the legal process involved in complex family matters. Alternatively, there are six organisations that Mediators belong to, with the most common organisations being the Family Mediation Association and The Law Society. Together, the six organisations are known as The Family Mediation Council. Details of Mediators registered with each organisation should be visible through their websites.