When you separate, there are often a whole host of issues that you need to consider, and if possible resolve, especially where children are involved. Finances, arrangements for the children, living arrangements including urgent ones, what happens to the family pet, and so on.
Family Mediation is a way of you controlling the process. 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, very often at extremely short notice. Our family justice system and courts are really struggling, and there is a growing move to look at other ways to resolve family disputes, rather than the courts.
I want to leave my relationship. What are my options?
As well as being a ‘traditional’ family lawyer, Karen Newman and I are also qualified family mediators.
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. The idea is that rather than asking a court or lawyers to help you resolve those disputes, you both work together in trying to resolve them, with the assistance of a mediator, who remains neutral but who is skilled in aiding this process, and helping you both explore different ideas and scenarios. Being a qualified and experienced family solicitor, means that I am also aware of the Law, and also the way that it is applied.
What family disputes can be covered under this process?
Almost any issue – be they big – housing, money, children – or small – family pets, possessions etc. One of the benefits to using family mediation is that you can explore issues which might be important to you, which a court might not consider to be important, or might even refuse to deal with. You can also access mediation much more easily and quickly so that if for instance there was an urgent issue which needed exploring, you could get mediation up and running very quickly and easily.
What are the benefits of family mediation?
You are able to control the timetable and speed at which the process moves forward.
You are able to decide what issues should be resolved.
You can explore solutions which the court might not be willing to consider.
You can bring in other expertise to help you with your decision making, such as financial advisors, or counsellors or even your lawyers.
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, and so on.
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 ongoing 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.
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.
Our 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.
I don’t feel safe.
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.
However, each situation rests on its own merits and given that mediation can take place remotely, it is arguably still worth considering whether it is appropriate and safe to do so.
We can arrange to have our meetings virtually, via Zoom or other video platforms.
Ruth Hawkins, Partner