23 Things you Need to Know about UK Family Mediation in 2019
#1 What is UK Family Mediation in 2019?
Family mediation is a process in which an accredited Family Mediator supports you and family members to communicate more effectively usually following a divorce or separation.
The mediator will help everyone look at the issues they are facing and through the mediation try to help the whole family make arrangements for the future.
These issues may be financial or may be linked to child arrangements (often referred to as contact, residency or custody).
#2 How long does family mediation take?
There is no specific timeframe for family mediation and it very much depends on the number of issues that are brought to mediation.
The amount of time spent in the mediation room also dependents on how well you communicate with your ex-partner.
However, many couples generally come to an agreement after approximately three sessions.
#3 What if we cannot reach an agreement via mediation?
Sometimes mediation fails to resolve a situation.
You, your ex-partner or the mediator may also decide to stop the mediation process if is not progressing well.
If this happens, the mediator will sign the necessary court form and the case can then be heard by a judge or a magistrate.
It is always to be remembered that during the mediation process, the decision making is in your hands, in court you give it over and lose that control.
#4 Should I choose a lawyer or family mediator?
The most common reaction of most people in the UK when facing divorce is to contact a divorce lawyer, not a family mediator.
This is because British society is conditioned by television dramas and films to immediately get on the phone and instruct a solicitor.
What usually happens in the films is a heated exchange, which results in a dramatic court room battle.
No one calls the family mediator to make an appointment to sit together round a table to discuss what can be done to minimise further emotional distress to the family and to plan for an amicable future!
It would be wrong to say that lawyers do not have their place, because they definitely do and any good family mediator will encourage their clients to seek the advice of a family lawyer.
It is important to remember that mediators cannot give legal advice, only legal information, so during the mediation process do not be surprised if your mediator asks you if you have sought legal advice regarding a specific issue.
If money is tight, there may be community law groups near to you where you can ask a qualified solicitor for advice.
Another option is speaking to Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) who may also be able to signpost you.
#5 Do I still need a solicitor or lawyer to give advice if I have a mediator?
Mediators are not lawyers or family solicitors. They can give you legal information, but not advice.
The mediator is impartial and will always remain neutral.
At certain points during the mediation process, your family mediator may suggest that you seek legal advice.
It is important to remember that an agreement made in mediation is not legally binding, so you will need to seek legal advice if you wish to make it binding in law.
#6 How do you get what you want when receiving family mediation?
Mediation is about trying to find an agreement both you and your ex-partner can live with.
In child cases, your child’s needs with be central to the discussion held and their welfare will be at the heart to any agreements reached.
To get the most out of mediation, you should always list the points you wish to discuss in mediation and ask the mediator about adding them to the agenda.
#7 Is mediation compulsory in the UK?
Mediation is a voluntary process, so attending mediation is always your own choice.
However, the courts do expect the you will attempt mediation with your ex-partner before going to court, unless there are mitigating circumstances, such as domestic violence or safe guarding issues.
Many court applications require a mediator to sign the form before filing at court. If you refuse to attend mediation and you go to court, you may have to explain your reasons to a judge or a magistrate.
#8 How long does it take for a divorce to be final after mediation?
Your divorce timetable very much depends on how you and your ex-partner work together.
If it is contested your divorce may take years to go through the courts.
If your divorce is unchallenged, it should take between three to four months from sending in the divorce petition to the pronouncement of your Decree Nisi.
#9 Can you get divorce through mediation?
Family mediation can help you and your ex-partner get through your divorce.
Mediation can help you sort out the grounds of the divorce, child arrangements and the finances post separation.
We would always recommend that you both have independent legal advice for a qualified person. A family mediator in impartial, so he can give you legal information, but never legal advice – this is the job of a family lawyer.
#10 Am I eligible for legal aid?
Legal Aid is usually available for people on low incomes or on benefits.
If you qualify for Legal Aid you will receive your mediation at no cost.
This can be assessed on the telephone and usually take about five minutes.
You will be required to provide evidence for your application.
If you receive Legal Aid and your ex-partner does not, the cost of their MIAM (Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting) and first mediation session will be met by the Legal Aid Agency. After this, they will need to pay privately.
#11 How does mediation work?
Family mediation follows a specified process.
The first stage is a MIAM (Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting).
During this meeting, which normally lasts between 45 minutes to an hour, the mediator will meet with you to discuss the issues you wish to raise in the mediation.
Your ex-partner will also have a similar meeting.
You attend these separately and usually on different days.
If mediation is suitable, you will then attend a joint mediation session with your ex-partner.
The sessions usually last between sixty and ninety minutes during which you will discuss the problems you are both facing; with the mediator, you will try to find an agreement you can both live with.
Once the proposals have been accepted by you both, these are then written up by the mediator in the form of a Parenting Plan or a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
To make them legally binding, you would then need to take them to a family lawyer.
#3 How much does the average divorce cost in the UK?
Divorces are always cheaper if you can avoid court. The National Audit Report in 2012 reported that the average cost per client for mediation was £675.
The average cost per client for cases going to court was £2,823. This in an average cost saving of £2,148.
#5 How much does mediation cost?
Family mediation firms often price between £100-200 per hour.
Sessions usually last between sixty minutes for child matters and to ninety minutes for financial matters.
Mediators should generally make this clear before you attend a session.
If you come to an agreement your mediator will need to write this up.
For financial matters, you usually receive an Open Financial Statement (which lists the financial assets of you and your ex-partner) and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) explaining the decision making process and what proposals have been made. This is a substantial piece of work and the cost of this is shared between you and your ex-partner.
For child matters, often a Parenting Plan is written which details how you will spend time with your child or children.
Again the mediator should give you details of any costs involved at the start.
Some family mediation providers have Legal Aid funding which is available across our 200 plus centres in England and Wales.
This means that if you are financially eligible, your sessions may be paid for by the Legal Aid Agency.
You will have to complete a means assessment.
If you are eligible you will have nothing to pay.
If your ex-partner is not eligible, but you are your ex-partner will have their Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) and first mediation at no cost. Following that they would have to pay the private rate.
#4 What are the benefits of family mediation?
It is important to remember that family mediators do not take sides, make judgments or give advice or guidance. This is very different from a family solicitor. The mediator’s role is to support your family in making your own decision about your future. Family mediation supports families through change and restructuring.
Below are some of the reasons why separating couple should consider mediation:
It is in your children’s best interests. No one disputes that fact that when parents co-operate, there is a positive effect on the children. Many parents report that mediation helps them maintain important family relationships.
Family mediation does not have adversarial approach like court where people often try to ‘win’ against the other, without looking at the overall picture. The process is much less stressful and it reinforces and strengthens effective communications.
The process of family mediation is generally quicker than going to court. The has been published that the mediation route takes an average of 110 days, compared with 435 days for non- mediated cases. This is an average saving of 325 days (10.5 months).
Many people think that court will deliver the answer they are looking for. In reality, you are handing over the decision making process to someone who does not know you or your family and only has a very short period of time to decide. In reality families very often end up with a court order that does not suit anyone. With family mediation the decision making is in your hands, not a stranger’s. A family mediator will assist you and your ex-partner to find a solution that works for you and your family and importantly, how you can make this agreement legally binding.
Courts are quite hostile environments many people feel exposed and distressed when in court. With mediation, agreements can be drawn up in a safe & confidential environment. It is important to remember that mediation is always confidential – what is said in the mediation room stays in the mediation room. Mediation sessions are usually held at the mediator’s office or a neutral venue.
The benefit that is mostly widely published is that family mediation is usually cheaper than going to court. The National Audit Report reported in 2012 that the average cost per client for mediation was £675. The average cost per client for cases going to court was £2,823, which meant there was an average saving of £2,148.
#4 Are mediators qualified professionals?
As with any profession it is important to ensure that the person you are engaging is fully qualified. All accredited family mediators in England and Wales are listed on the Family Mediation Council website https://www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk/
There is a search engine which allows you to find a mediator near to where you live. There are two categories of mediator: trainee and accredited. This is stated very clearly on the profile of each mediator. All accredited mediators have completed a very rigorous training course and have also compiled a professional portfolio, which usually takes one to two years to complete.
Also every year family mediators have to complete a specified number of hours of continuous professional development (CPD), satisfy a PPC (Professional Practice Consultant) to specific standards, and undertake a certain number of hours of family mediation.
All accredited family mediators are required to have professional indemnity insurance and in addition to this, every mediator has to be a member of a professional organisation, such as The College of Mediators, The Family Mediation Association, Resolution.
#4 What happens if I say no to mediation?
Mediation is an entirely voluntary process, so no one is going to force you to attend.
However, what you do need to be aware of is that if you do not attend or do not wish to continue with family mediation, you may have to explain why to a magistrate or a district judge.
There is also the possibility that the court may refer your case back to family court if they think it is suitable.
The court does not see its role to parent children, that is the job of the parents. It is only in extreme situations that the court should intervene in lives of families.
#5 When is mediation not suitable?
It is a legal requirement when taking your case to court to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM).
Your ex-partner will also be expected to attend a MIAM also, but not at the same time as you!
The idea of this is to see if mediation would be a more suitable legal process to go through rather than court.
However, in some particular circumstances mediation will not be an appropriate route:
- If you or your ex-partner has made an allegation of domestic violence against the other person. However, you will need to show evidence of this to the court, such as a police investigation or an injunction being in place.
- If the court application, you are making, is linked to a matter which is already in the family courts and you are involved in.
- If there is a risk to life or the safety of the person making the court application, or their family or their home is at risk.
- The case is regarding finances and you or your wife, husband or civil partner (the respondent) is bankrupt.
- You, your wife, husband or civil partner are in agreement and there is no dispute.
- In the event of you not knowing where your wife, husband, or civil partner is.
- You want to submit a court application but for certain reasons you do not wish to inform your wife, husband, or civil partner before.
- At the time of the court application you are involved with social services because there are concerns about the wellbeing and safety of your children.
- There is not a family mediator within 15 miles of where you live, or you have got in touch with three mediators based within 15 miles of where you reside and you cannot get an appointment with any of them within 15 working days.
- You or your wife, husband or ex-partner cannot access a mediator’s office because one of you has a disability. However, it must be remembered that if the mediator can provide the appropriate accommodation then you will both still be required to attend the meeting.
- An accredited family mediator records on the court form that mediation is not suitable, i.e. the other person is not willing to attend a MIAM.
- In the past four months you attempted mediation but it had not been successful. An accredited mediator has to confirm this and confirm that mediation is not the best way for you to resolve your dispute.
- If you or your ex-partner do not normally live in either England or Wales and therefore as a result cannot be considered as “habitually resident”.
#4 What is the family mediation process?
Family mediation is something that no one ever expects to undertake. It is also a process which is not know to many, so attending mediation can be somewhat daunting. We have created a series of videos to help understand the process.
First meeting with an accredited family mediator (MIAM)
The initial session with a family mediator, which is referred to as a MIAM (Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting), gives you the chance to see how mediation can benefit you and your family. This session is generally between 45 – 60 minutes. During this time, you will talk about:
- The mediation process.
- If family mediation or another type of dispute resolution is the correct decision for managing you and your family’s issues. Other kinds to be considered are collaborative law, lawyer negotiations, arbitration and court.
- The possible positive outcomes of family mediation and other kinds of dispute resolution.
- The number of mediation sessions you may require.
- The costs of undertaking family mediation.
- Looking to see if you could access family mediation at no charge via Legal Aid.
The Agreement to Mediate
During the first joint mediation session, the family mediator will go over the ground rules and what is expected of everyone in the mediation room. This information is written down in full in a document called Agreement to Mediate. This can also be found on our website under the section Policies. After having gone through the document, you and your ex-partner will be invited to sign it if you agree to the terms.
There are a number of different mediation models which your mediator will discuss with you.
A) Sole mediation is where you, your former partner and the accredited mediator meet in one room to talk thought the issues you are facing. As previously mentioned sessions are generally between an hour and an hour and a half. A common question that is asked is how many sessions will it take to resolve our issues? This very much depends on the people within the mediation room and the issues being discussed; however, most people conclude mediation within three sessions. This is the most common form of mediation.
B) Shuttle mediation is the second most common form of mediation. This is when you and your former partner do not want or cannot be in the same room together. In these situations, the mediator goes between the two rooms to carry out the negotiations. It is particularly useful tool for people who have previously had a volatile relationship and personal safety may be a concern. One disadvantage of shuttle mediation is the increased time it takes to carry out and therefore the costs can be slightly more.
C) Co-mediation is when there are two mediators present. This model may be used when there is a great deal of conflict between the two people attending mediation. Another reason for bringing in another mediator may be because of a complexity of an issue being discussed which requires specialist knowledge.
D) Child Consultations – at the core of family mediation is the well-being of any children involved. Sometimes, if a child is old enough, it is good to have input from them. The children will never be asked by the specially qualified mediator to make any choices about their living arrangements. Child consultations are only carried out if both you and your ex-partner agree. Parental authority is always respected by the mediator carrying out the child consultation.
If you and your ex-partner agree to proposals discussed in mediation, the mediator will talk to you about how these can be made into a court order and if it is necessary. For child arrangements, the courts always consider the no order principle. Magistrates and judges in the family court try not to make orders, as it is believed that parents should not need an order to parent their child; however, if there is a history of child arrangements being broken the courts may decide that it is necessary in order to give the child stability. With financial agreements made in mediation, mediators will encourage that a financial consent order be sought. This can be done via a solicitor or directly via the courts.
On occasions mediation may not be successful. In such circumstances, the mediator will outline what other options are available to resolve the dispute such as arbitration.
#5 Is mediation a confidential process?
In the first mediation session, the mediator will stress that the mediation process is a confidential process and that what is said during the mediation is privileged. This means that what is said by anyone during discussions cannot be then used later as evidence if the case progresses to court. This gives people the freedom to consider and talk about varying different options and think outside the box. The only time the mediator can break the confidentiality of the mediation room is when there is an admission to criminal activity or the mediator believes that the welfare of a child or vulnerable person is at risk. The mediator will explain clearly about what action they will take during the session.
#4 Family mediation & financial cases
Financial mediation is for people who want to reach an agreement about finances, which can include property, such as the family home following separation or divorce. It is always difficult to say how many sessions it takes to reach an agreement, but usually it takes anything from between two and four meetings. If the finances are complex, then be prepared that it may take more time.
The success of financial mediation cases is in the preparation and collection of financial information before starting mediation. The mediator will send out a financial pack which will need completing with as much details as possible. Alongside this up-to-date account statements will need to be provided. It is important to provide as much current information about mortgages, property valuations, insurance policies, endowments and any other financial investments such as stokes and shares. Do this as early as possible, so that when you attend your first session you will be prepared and your time in mediation will be effective.
Remember that you need to disclose all your financial assets. This includes jewelry, cars and those off-shore bank accounts in the Cayman Islands!
It is important to not just count assets, but also debts. These may be bank loans, or even ones from family members. There are also also credit, debit and store cards to be considered. This will allow for everyone to plan their future finances more effectively.
Financial Case Study
Peter and Beverley had been in a relationship for over ten years at the time they broke up. Beverley was a very successful business woman and had over 100 employees. Beverley was angry because for the duration of their relationship her partner had tried to make a career as a stockbroker, but had failed. At the first mediation session, Beverley said ‘I was always against you having a career as a stockbroker and now because you don’t earn enough to survive, you expect me to pay alimony. You are a disgrace of a man.’
The power dynamic in this mediation session was interesting, as the male did not play the usual gender role of the financial provider. Peter was in fact was ashamed of his financial situation and failure of his career. He had received legal advice and was told that he had every right to alimony. However, as a man he felt conflicted between his identity as a man, who society expects to provide for himself, and his desperate need for money to survive. In mediation he broke down a number of times, as he felt so humiliated. The mediation went to shuttle after having started face-to-face, as the power imbalance was too great. Shuttle mediation gave Peter the space to think independently and not under so much pressure. Both Peter and Beverley were able to come to a financial agreement, which allowed them both to move on with their lives.
#5 Family mediation & child arrangement cases
Many separated parents find it difficult to organise the time that each child spends with each parent. The most common issue is not being able to communicate effectively. After a relationship has ended speaking to your ex-partner can be very difficult and emotions can run high. This can make having an everyday conversation about child arrangements very difficult or impossible. In mediation your mediator will discuss with about communication strategies and possible rules for people to keep to.
The introduction of new partners can also make it challenging for parents and children. Such changes are not uncommon, as adults move on with their lives and start new families. Mediators may talk about clarifying new partners’ roles going forward and how and when they should be introduced to the family.
Family units are becoming ever more diverse and today families come in all different shapes and sizes, from the conventional nuclear family to single parents, adoptive parents and children being raised by grandparents. Around 20,000 young people in Britain are growing up with same-sex parents and many children have lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans parents or family. The commonality between all these differing families is the same love that is felt for children.
LGBT+ Case Study
Janice and Angela were in a same sex relationship. They were close friends with a gay couple, Mat and Ted. All four wanted children, so they decided to conceive children, mixing the sperm of both men and then inseminating both women artificially. What had been planned was for two children to be born together to the four parents. Unfortunately, only one baby boy was born, but initially this did not cause a problem, as Janice, Angela, Mat and Ted all played an active part in the child’s life. There was no signed agreement written down by the parents about their roles and responsibilities. When the boy was five years old the relationship between the parents started to fall apart and it became apparent that intervention was required. The four parents went to mediation to try and sort out the issues they were facing and to define their individual roles.
The mediation sessions looked at the legal issues regarding the recognition of each person’s parenting rights and their parental duties. The mediator constantly brought the parents back to their shared concern, which was acting in the best interest of their child. This helped the parents agree to having shared contact.
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, said “Dialogue is the most effective way of resolving conflict.” Mediation gives people, whether that is you, a friend or a member of your family, the platform and structure to have those discussions to find an agreement. As Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”