Q: Do I have to attend a family mediation?
One of the main principles of family mediation is that it is a voluntary process, which you and your other party enter into in freely. Family mediation can only work to resolve issues between you and your other party if you both agree to attend.
However if you intend to make a Court application relating to matters concerning finances associated with divorce or children, it is a requirement that you first of all attend a family mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM). This is not a joint family mediation session with your other party but rather an initial one-to-one appointment between you and one of our mediators to give you some information about family mediation and to assess whether or not your case would be suitable for family mediation. If you still want to make an application to Court, the mediator will be able to sign the requisite Court form to enable you to make the Court application. Unless one of the limited exemption criteria apply then if you apply to Court without having attended at a MIAMS appointment the Court will reject your application.
Q: What is the difference between relationship counselling and mediation?
Mediation is a future focused process. Is it most commonly used when you have reached the decision that your relationship is over and you need to sort out some issues to assist you and your other party to move forward into your separate lives.
The process of mediation is not about apportioning blame or looking back and analysing your relationship. It is a process which can assist you and your other party to re-establish a working dialogue going forward even though the relationship between you as a “couple” has broken down.
Mediation can also assist in defined situations during your relationship/marriage for instance when discussing the terms of a proposed pre or post nuptial agreement, or there are some issues with wider family members wanting to have contact with your children and you have issues/concerns.
Q: What can family mediation help with?
Family mediation is most commonly, but not exclusively used to assist you following the breakdown of a relationship.
Family mediation can help you sort out the practical arrangements about what periods of time your children are to spend with you and your other party. It can help improve communication between you both to ensure consistency of parenting and boundaries for your children.
Family mediation can also help you sort out financial issues in the short term following separation, such as who is going to pay bills and the mortgage, and what level of financial support there should be for the children. In the longer term, family mediation can help you resolve where you are each going to live, and what capital assets such as savings and investments need to be shared out fairly, whether there should be any form of on-going financial support and whether there are any pension related matters to sort out.
You are free to attend family mediation at any time following separation. If you are married you can attend either before or during proceedings for divorce. If before, then you may wish to agree within the mediation what the basis will be for a divorce, you may agree the divorce particulars and how the costs of divorce will be paid.
Family mediation can also assist difficulties which arise with other family members. For instance if there are family difficulties and you are a grandparent and you are seeking to establish a relationship with your grandchildren then mediation may assist you to open/build upon a productive dialogue between family members.
You may also chose to attend family mediation to assist in sorting the provisions of a pre-nuptial agreement (prior to marriage) or a post nuptial settlement (post- marriage). Discussing provisions of proposed agreements can be very difficult. Our specialist family mediators can help you to focus upon key factors and negotiate the terms of the proposed agreement(s).
Q: What happens at each stage of the mediation process?
An assessment meeting or MIAMS (mediation information and assessment meeting) will usually take around thirty minutes. During the assessment sessions we will talk to you about the following things:
- Find out if you are eligible for public funding or legally aided mediation. Tell you about the costs involved if you want to proceed with mediation on a privately paying basis.
- Check whether there are any domestic violence issues, social services involvement or health issues that we need to be aware of, so that we can make sure that you’ll feel safe during the process, you have the support you need and we can assess whether mediation is suitable.
- Assess what type of mediation is best for you - do you have children and money to sort out, or just one of these things?
- We won’t proceed with arranging any mediation sessions unless both you and your other party agree. If mediation is unsuitable our mediator will provide you or your solicitor with the relevant forms to take the matter to court.
- If you do both agree, we’ll set a date with you both for the first session. You will both be asked to sign the Agreement to mediate together with your mediator which will set out yours and the mediator’s responsibilities during the process.
The joint sessions
Your mediation sessions will involve you both agreeing to follow a procedure guided by our specialist family lawyer mediator at all times. At the start of mediation, you’ll both be encouraged to say what you each want, and need to discuss. These things may differ but you’ll be encouraged to agree an agenda of issues to discuss, and to decide what’s most important to discuss first.
If necessary we can seek the involvement of third parties to advise and/or provide further information. For example if you are discussing finances and you have business interests and/or other assets we could seek, by agreement, to obtain a report from an accountant or an actuary (in pension related matters). We can also involve your solicitors as part of the process if that is appropriate.
At the end of your case your mediator will prepare a privileged summary called a Memorandum of Understanding which will record the mutually acceptable proposals for settlement of matters discussed and will outline the context in which those proposals have been reached. This is prepared for you. It can be shown to your respective solicitors but it cannot be shown to the court unless you both consent to the same.
In addition in financial cases, an Open Financial Statement / Summary of your financial circumstances will be produced. This document will include all the financial documents you have both disclosed during the process. This is an open document and can be used in subsequent court proceedings should mediation not resolve issues between you.
Q: What are the range of children issues we can discuss in family mediation?
There are many issues that you may need to resolve relating to your children. Mediation can help you sort out the following arrangements;
- what periods of time the children are to spend with each of you,
- practical arrangements about where you are to live and how much money you have or
- finding new ways of communicating with each other about your children as separated parents.
- Parenting plans; what decisions you will make jointly or separately; child maintenance; arrangements for holidays; birthdays; mother or father’s day; Christmas; special occasions with extended families etc
- wider issues relating to family breakdown such as the continuing role many grandparents play in children’s lives. Mediation can assist parents to resolve such disputes or a parent and grandparent(s).
- It can help children at this difficult time because they can be told that their parents are working together to sort things out.
In certain situations it may be appropriate, providing that you and your other party agree, for your children to speak to a child consultant as part of the mediation process so that their direct wishes and feelings can been ascertained. We would be happy to discuss this option with you further at the assessment stage.
Q: Is mediation confidential?
Your MIAM is confidential, but any information given during the mediation process itself must be shared between both parties. A mediator cannot hold secrets. The mediation process is ‘legally privileged’ which means you can’t use any discussion or written documentation as evidence in Court
Q: How many mediation sessions will we need?
This depends on the complexity of the case and how willing parties are to engage and to genuinely want to achieve an outcome. Mediation is a process, not a one off, one- size- fits- all solution. Mediation is a voluntary process but parties should be prepared to stay in the process until the case is resolved or until the mediator says an impasse has been reached.
Q: What can I expect to achieve in the first session?
It is likely you will make some progress in the first meeting and some agreement may be reached. It is unrealistic to expect that deep seated issues or every issue can be sorted out in 90 minutes. You may reach a point where you have laid the foundations for further discussion or some proposals have been reached that you can go away and test out before returning to mediation to progress matters further.
Q: If I mediate, will I get what I want?
Parties should not enter mediation with a win/lose attitude. Mediation is about finding solutions that take account of the family’s needs, concerns and interests.
Q: Is mediation right for me?
Mediation isn’t an easy process. Negotiating co-operatively is probably going to be harder emotionally, than a more adversarial approach in the short term. It forces you to deal with your ex and by doing so may bring up uncomfortable issues and feelings. In the long run your shorter term struggle or discomfort will pay off for you, your ex and especially your children.
Q: Will I get a record of what was said in mediation?
The mediator will produce a ‘mediation record’ after each session. This document holds no legal status and cannot be used as evidence in Court. It can be shown to your legal adviser however. The main purpose of the document is to provide parties with an outline of the discussion and any proposals made. The document is not a transcript, rather the mediator’s interpretation of key points.