Family Mediation Week has come around again.
But what is family mediation? Put simply, it’s a way of resolving disputes which have arisen upon separation, or of deciding how to organise your lives separately.
I believe that it can be an extremely powerful way of resolving these issues, be they big – housing, money, children – or small – family pets, possessions etc.
Mediation can be very empowering. Instead of asking a lawyer or judge to sort your issues out, you and your ex are sorting them out yourselves. You know your children, and what they need, so arguably, you as parents are better able to decide how to organise the children’s arrangements once you separate into two households. You will have a voice in mediation, and be able to express things that have been worrying or upsetting you, which in itself can be cathartic.
Whilst the mediation process can be tough, at least you are in control of it. You will know when to meet with the mediator, how often, where, and so on. With the court process, the court or Judges decide these things. There are often long delays, and cases can be adjourned without you having a say in matters. Our family justice system and courts are really struggling, and there is a growing move to look at mediation and arbitration to resolve disputes, rather than the courts.
With family mediation you will have more control in how you resolve your issues.
One of the key aims of family mediation is to try and reduce conflict between parents, and improve communication between parents. It is often also important, even where there are no children or where the children have grown up, to separate on better terms, as we all have extended families, and friends, and to be able to communicate on better terms with your ex going forward can be important to ensure friends and family don’t get further dragged into your own disputes.
I would urge anyone separating to consider family mediation, as long as it is safe to do so. Not only is it a process you have more control over, and one which may assist you in working through those tricky communication issues, but it is usually a more cost effective way of resolving disputes. You and your ex are likely to be able to share the costs, so it compares very favourably to you each instructing lawyers to deal with matters.
It can also be very flexible. You are encouraged to seek legal advice alongside the mediation process. There are some circumstances where it might be useful to include a third party in the mediation process, such as a therapist, financial advisor, divorce coach etc. The mediation process can also include two mediators co-mediating. This can be very useful when perhaps one mediator has more expertise in financial matters, and the other in children matters, or maybe where there is an imbalance in the relationship between the two parties, so perhaps two mediators might provide for a more balanced approach, and be more reassuring to both of you.
My role as a mediator is to act as a neutral, impartial facilitator, providing a neutral venue to aid discussions and hopefully help you reach agreement.
There is also evidence that agreements reached through mediation stand the test of time, and that when bumps in the road come long later, people are more willing to return to mediation to ‘iron’ them out.
A family mediator will only agree to mediate where it is safe to do so. It will often not be suitable where there is domestic abuse or where there is an imbalance in control. An initial appointment or discussion with the mediator will be had to ensure that mediation is appropriate.
Ruth Hawkins, Partner