22 November 2023

Mediation – what is it and how do I prepare?

Family Awareness Week 2023

What is family mediation?

Family mediation is a form of ‘out of Court’ dispute resolution designed to help people reach an agreement in respect of the issues stemming from the breakdown in their relationship. It involves an independent mediator helping to guide the parties through their discussions with a view to assisting them reach an agreement amicably between them. It aims to reduce conflict and increase communication between parties, which is particularly helpful when there are children involved.

Is mediation suitable for everyone?

Mediation is at all times a voluntary process, and it is not always suitable in every case. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, and you must do what is right for you and your circumstances. Before attending a joint session, both parties will speak to the chosen mediator individually (a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting, or MIAM), during this meeting the mediator will determine whether the case is suitable for mediation. Whilst most cases are, there are occasions where mediation is not appropriate (for example, in cases of domestic abuse) and the mediator will make that assessment following their initial discussions with each party. If mediation is not suitable, there are other options available, and you should seek legal advice.

What can I discuss in mediation?

You can discuss many different things during mediation – this flexibility is one of the key benefits of mediation – from the division of assets upon relationship breakdown to the arrangements for the children.

 Will I need to provide details of my finances? What if the other party is not honest with their disclosure?

Both you and your partner will be expected to provide details of your finances, as both of you will need to know what is available in order to determine what a fair outcome would be. It is very common for one, or both, parties to be concerned about their partner hiding assets or not disclosing assets during mediation. Both parties have an obligation to be full and frank in their disclosure, and if one party does not disclose something it could leave any agreement you reach open to challenge in the future. If one party does not engage in the exchange of financial information then they risk the mediation not being able to continue.

Do I have to be in the same room as the other party?

Traditionally, mediation takes place with both parties sitting in the same room with the mediator, however it is now increasingly common for parties to attend mediation remotely. Shuttle mediation is also an option, whereby the parties would be in separate rooms and the mediator shuttling back and forth between them. You should discuss with your mediator the most suitable option for you during the initial discussion with them so that the necessary arrangements can be put in place.

Is mediation exclusively for married couples?

In short, no. Family mediation can be for married couples, unmarried couples, separated parents etc. It is also now possible, in certain circumstances and only when appropriate, for children to be given the chance to speak to the mediator and have their voice heard in the arrangements that are being made for them.

How much does it cost?

How much it costs depends on 2 things – who your chosen mediator is and how many sessions are required before an agreement is reached. Fees are usually charged as a fixed fee per session. There will also be costs associated with the mediator’s preparation of the Memorandum of Understanding and any Schedule of Financial Disclosure. Typically, the costs of mediating to reach an agreement are lower than what they would be if you were to negotiate via Solicitors.

Unlike Solicitor’s fees, whereby the general rule is that each party pays their own, the costs of the mediator are usually shared between both parties – either in equal shares or otherwise. There is also a Family Mediation Voucher Scheme which is available in some cases, which can assist towards the mediation costs.

Do I need a Solicitor?

It is important to understand that mediators are impartial, whilst they can share their legal knowledge and experience of how family law works, they will not be able to provide you or your spouse/partner with specific legal advice. Many people therefore find it helpful to have a Solicitor instructed to provide advice and assistance alongside mediation, they will not be able to attend mediation with you but can provide support and advice between sessions.

What can I do to prepare for mediation?

You will not need to take anything to the initial discussion with your chosen mediator, however some people find it helpful to have a list of questions/concerns ready to ask the mediator. As explained above financial disclosure will be required, so it might be sensible to start gathering your financial information ready for the first joint session.

It is also useful to take legal advice before starting mediation to take advice, so that you can go into mediation well-informed and with a clear idea as to how to get the best out of mediation.

What happens after mediation?

If an agreement is reached, your mediator will prepare a document setting out the details of any agreement reached (Memorandum of Understanding), and a summary of the financial disclosure provided (if appropriate). In financial cases you should then have the terms agreed drafted into a Financial Consent Order by a solicitor and sealed by the Court in order to formalise your agreement. If an agreement is not possible in mediation, it is recommended that you take legal advice from your solicitor as to options available to you.

We have an experienced and friendly team of specialist family lawyers here at Howell Jones who are able to provide you with advice before and alongside mediation. We can also assist with the preparation of a financial order, and if mediation is not successful, we can advise you as to the appropriate next steps. If you would like to speak with one of the team about your options, please do get in touch – we are here to help.


*Disclaimer: this article is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice

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