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Guide to Family Mediation - the 10 facts you need to know

View profile for Sam Miles
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Following a divorce or separation, you may be struggling to have conversations with your former partner or spouse regarding your children or financial arrangements.  With your history and potentially fraught breakdown of your relationship, you may be reluctant to compromise or may feel you have no choice but to agree to arrangements you are not happy with.

Family Mediation can help.  This method of resolution can help you reach decisions you thought were impossible, purely by allowing you and your former partner the ability to step back from your relationship and view things from another perspective.  Family Mediation isn’t marriage counselling, but a way to resolve your differences allowing you and any children involved to move forward in your new life.  Sam Miles, Family Mediator and Head of the Family department, here explains the ten things you should know about Family Mediation and how we can help you in your next steps.

1). What is Family Mediation?

Family Mediation brings you and your former partner together to agree certain arrangements following the end of your relationship.  Having these conversations can be tricky to do yourself; by having an independent Family Mediator involved to facilitate the discussion in a neutral environment it is more likely that agreements can be reached.  Not only can you make agreements for the short term future, but also for the long term to help improve how the two of you communicate for the sake of any children from your relationship or as financial situations change.

If you find yourself in this situation, you may think that going to Court is your only option, however Family Mediation could lead to you reaching a more amicable and timely solution than going to Court, with the additional benefit that the decision is not taken from your control.  Only by attending Family Mediation can you be sure that you will not only be listened to, but you will have your wishes heard and taken into consideration. 

2). What can be discussed in Family Mediation?

Coming to agreements regarding your children or finances are the usual topics that are discussed in Family Mediation.  This would encompass decisions such as:

  • How children will share their time with each of you
  • Where children will live
  • How children will remain in contact with the wider family unit, such as with grandparents and step families
  • Plans for the family home and other assets, including any savings, debts or pensions
  • Arrangements for the family business, or setting plans in place for the future success of a business
  • Child maintenance payments

3). How does Family Mediation work?

Everyone’s journey with Family Mediation will be different; however there are generally three stages to reaching your resolution:

  1. The first step is to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting.  The majority of couples who are struggling to reach an agreement and are considering going to Court will be required to show that they have considered Family Mediation first by attending a MIAM (there are exceptions detailed below).  During these individual meetings, you will discuss with the qualified Family Mediator your history and what you are looking to achieve from the sessions, before we explain the process in more detail.
  2. If you and your former partner do wish to proceed with Family Mediation, then a joint session is booked. 
  3. Once you have had your sessions and decisions have been agreed, your Family Mediator will provide you with a Memorandum of Understanding.  If you wish, for example if you believe that your former partner may not abide by the agreement, this can be taken to a Solicitor to make this a legally binding document. 

4). What is a MIAM – Do I have to consider Family Mediation before going to Court?

As previously mentioned, a MIAM is the first step in Family Mediation and is a compulsory one if you are considering taking your disagreements to Court.  Any application to Court will need to demonstrate that you have either attended a MIAM and it was not successful or that an exemption applies, otherwise your application will be refused. 

There are several exemptions to attending a MIAM, including:

  • Child protection concerns
  • Domestic violence investigations
  • You have previously attended a MIAM or already have a MIAM exemption
  • There are not sufficient contact details for your former spouse or partner
  • Either you or your former spouse or partner are subject to a disability that would restrict attendance unless adjustments were made
  • Either you or your former spouse or partner are in prison or another institution, are subject to bail conditions restricting contact or are not habitually resident in England or Wales
  • There are no Family Mediators within a 15 mile radius who are available with 15 business days.

The objective of a MIAM is for you to understand how Family Mediation could help you in your situation and is for the Family Mediator to learn more about what has occurred and assess whether Family Mediation is suitable.  These meetings are on an individual basis; we understand that this first step can be a daunting one and so you may be permitted to bring a friend or relative to this meeting.

5). What are the benefits of Family Mediation?

There are many different reasons why you should consider Family Mediation as an option to help you reach a decision with your former partner or spouse:

  • Environment: Family Mediation is the only option that offers the neutral environment with an independent third party to assist with your discussions, leading to less stress for both parties.
  • More control: Taking your discussions to Court will essentially take the decision out of your hands and place it into those of the Judge presiding over your case, who will tend to focus on what has led to your disagreement instead of looking for a resolution.  Family Mediation however gives you control over the arrangements that are agreed and your sessions only conclude when both parties are satisfied with the outcome. 
  • Less cost with a quicker result: Going to Court inevitably takes more time than attending Family Mediation.  Due to the process of going to Court, making an application of this nature can take up to a year to be resolved, while Family Mediation sessions normally only last a few months.  This means less financial implications as you are only paying for your sessions, while you would be paying the Court their fees as well as additional legal fees, which can be hard to budget for.
  • Future plans: Going to Court can be a hostile environment which may heighten those feelings between you and your former partner, making it harder to work together for the best outcome in the future.  Family Mediation provides a platform for you to have more co-operative discussions and, as you will both agree with the outcome opposed to if you were to go to Court, there is less likelihood of more disagreements in the future. 

6). How long does Family Mediation take to reach a decision?

It is hard to predict how long Family Mediation will take, however generally it will be between two and four sessions, which last approximately one to two hours each.  There are no minimum or maximum limits on the number of sessions that you can have and we will work to your timetable.  Factors that will impact the length of time and the number of sessions will be:

  • Whether your former partner is open to attending
  • The number of issues to be resolved
  • If you are discussing financial arrangements, then the complexity of those financial assets
  • The nature of your disagreement and the likelihood of them being resolved.

7). What happens if my former partner refuses to attend Family Mediation?

While attending Family Mediation is a voluntary process and your former partner cannot be forced to attend, as already discussed, there is in most cases the compulsory first step of attending the Mediation Information Assessment Meeting. 

Family Mediation can be an overwhelming prospect to those who may not understand the benefits of attending; they may consider it to be a form of marriage counselling, which it is not, and so may be reluctant to make that first step towards a resolution.  The MIAM is in place to dispel these myths, alleviate any anxieties and help both parties appreciate the value in attending such a session.  Only when this happens can Family Mediation facilitate the right environment for these discussions. 

8). Do I have to attend Family Mediation alone?

There are rare situations when your Mediator may find it appropriate for there to be additional individuals in your Family Mediation sessions, however generally third parties and other family members are not invited to attend.  Those additional situations may involve:

  • If the financial or property accounts are particularly complex
  • If a translator is required

Having other people involved in the sessions will leave the room as a less neutral, balanced one which will hinder open and honest discussions. 

9). What is Child Inclusive Mediation?

Making arrangements for your children is one of the topics that you can use Family Mediation for, and it may be that you feel it would be beneficial for all concerned to have them involved in the decision making process.  Depending on their age and their understanding of the relationship between you and their other parent, it can be useful to have their views heard not only from your perspective but also to assist with their own concerns and make them feel that they are a valued member of your family. 

If you do wish to consider this, it is vital that you use a Child Inclusive Mediator, as they have been trained specifically to work with children under these circumstances. 

10). Is Family Mediation legally binding?

The decisions reached in Family Mediation will not be legally binding; however they can be made so by using a Solicitor to arrange a Court Order.

Your Family Mediator cannot give you any legal advice, but once agreements are made they will provide you with a Memorandum of Understanding, which is the document that can be made legally binding. 

This highlights the difference between a Solicitor and a Mediator; a Solicitor will be acting on your behalf while a Mediator is an impartial person to work in both of your interests to reach a resolution.  If you were to use a Mediator who is also legally trained as a Solicitor and they were to give legal advice during your sessions, this would have a detrimental impact on their impartiality.  They will be able to advise as to whether the decisions you reach can be made legally binding, but this is the extent of their legal advice. 

Meet our Family Mediators

We have two Family Mediators who are both Resolution trained and Law Society accredited:

  • Sam Miles is a Partner and Head of our Family department with over 20 years experience in Family law.  Sam has been offering Family Mediation since 2014 and has worked with many different couples through one of the most difficult times in their lives with the compassion and understanding needed.  Sam is also a qualified Child Inclusive Mediator.
  • Claire Knight is an Associate Solicitor within our Family department, also with over 20 years experience in Family law.  Claire has been offering Family Mediation since 2015 and has impressed her clients with her practical advice and swift resolutions. 

For more information or advice as to how Family Mediation can assist you, or for more details on the costs involved, contact us today on 023 8071 7431 or email mediation@warnergoodman.co.uk.

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.