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Can I still attend Family Mediation sessions during lockdown?

View profile for Sam Miles
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The coronavirus crisis is redefining lifestyles and the boundaries of our interactions; a situation that can challenge even the strongest bonds.  For couples who are struggling in their relationship, or were in the process of divorce or Family Mediation, anxiety levels are likely to be heightened if it seems there is nowhere to turn, while personal movements are restricted and even the Family Courts are working remotely.  Samantha Miles, Partner in our Family Law department, explains here that it is still possible to proceed with your Family Mediation sessions, and reviews why using this method can be more beneficial in the long term.

What is Family Mediation?

After you have made the decision to divorce or separate, it is understandable that there may be elements of your life together that you are struggling to agree on such as your finances or children arrangements, particularly during the current pandemic when tensions are heightened.  Family Mediation offers you and your former partner the opportunity to discuss your position in a neutral environment with a third party who is specifically trained to assist you in reaching a compromise that you are both happy with. 

This neutral environment with an independent person is the key to Family Mediation’s success.  Both people feel that they are involved in the decisions being made for the future and are given the reassurance that they will be able to discuss the ideal outcome for them and not be dominated by the other person or forced to make a compromise they do not wish to reach.  This control over the future is one of the many benefits of Family Mediation over going to Court, in which situation the Judge would have the ultimate decision over what happens in yours and your family’s life. 

While Family Mediation is ordinarily conducted in face to face meetings, or with the two parties in separate rooms and the Mediator moving between each room, the current lockdown and social distancing restrictions mean that this is not an option.  “We are however offering appointments via video conferencing, which we are finding is working well in the circumstances,” explains Sam.  “Our initial feedback indicates that some people prefer this method as it removes the pressure of being in the same room with the other person, which some can find intimidating.  It is crucial that initial ground rules are set at the beginning of the call, as we would in a face to face appointment, in order to allow both parties the opportunity to speak and be heard.”

Practical considerations for Family Mediation during lockdown

In proceeding with video conferencing for Family Mediation, we have been advising our clients to give considerations to the following:

  • Where will your children be when you are on the call - if you are discussing their future as part of the Mediation discussions, it will be important that they are not in the vicinity to overhear the discussions.
  • Ensuring you have adequate time to prepare – most parents are currently facing the challenge of juggling work, childcare and other commitments so we would recommend you find the appropriate time prior to your appointment to allocate the time required to ensure you have everything you need, particularly if you are discussing complex financial arrangements during your Mediation sessions. 
  • Testing your technology – having your sessions delayed due to unreliable Wi-Fi access or not having the right software on your laptop will be disruptive to the progress of your sessions, so it is important you test these facilities in advance. 

Is there a delay in Court applications?

The aim of Family Mediation is to avoid proceeding to Court by reaching a resolution between the two of you.  You are not able to proceed to Court without having given Family Mediation the opportunity to do this and every couple must now have a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM), which we are also able to offer remotely.  If this indicates that Mediation is unlikely to succeed or one of the exemptions applies, then you can proceed to Court.  The Family Courts are still operating, offering telephone and video conferences, however there is understandably a delay as they are prioritising urgent proceedings where a member of the family is at risk. 

“Many families are facing new pressures and are being called upon to make changes to their lives that none of us could have predicted a few months ago,” concludes Sam.  “It is important to continue with making preparations for the future, such as Family Mediation, and not delay until lockdown eases as tensions could continue to rise which will have a lasting impact on the future success of reaching a resolution.”

If you are considering Family Mediation to reach a resolution with your former partner, you can contact Samantha Miles or a member of the Family Law team on 023 8071 7431 or email samanthamiles@warnergoodman.co.uk.  Alternatively, you may find the following resources useful:

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.