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/ 21 Jan 2022

Family Mediation Week: What is Family Mediation?

As Family Mediation Week draws to a close, solicitor Maisie Lockyer explores the benefits of mediation and the key considerations for separating couples.

Maisie Lockyer

Associate

Family & Divorce

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What is Family Mediation?

Mediation is a process by which parties can attempt to resolve their problems and try to reach an agreement. Following divorce or separation, it can be used to resolve issues in relation to children or finances. A mediator, who will be specifically trained to deal with family matters, will support and facilitate discussions. They do not take sides and cannot advise but can assist the parties in exploring their options and ultimately, to reaching an agreement.

What is the benefit of Family Mediation?

Parties are always encouraged to explore mediation prior to issuing court proceedings (save where it is not appropriate) and so it is likely this is a step that will need to be taken in any event. However, the process does allow parties to discuss matters openly without the need for extensive solicitor correspondence. This can mean it is a cheaper option. It can also serve to minimise animosity.

Key considerations

Is mediation appropriate?

Where there is a history of domestic abuse, traditional mediation is unlikely to be appropriate as it can provide an abusive partner with an opportunity to further harass or abuse their partner. This can result in someone agreeing to something that’s not in their interests, simply to bring matters to an end. Similarly, when one party is more financially astute, this can mean they have an advantage in negotiations. In matters relating to finances, if a party has concerns that the other party is hiding assets, it will be crucial for their financial disclosure to be properly analysed and it may be sensible to involve a solicitor in this.

How do I know if the agreement reached is fair?

As a mediator cannot advise you, it is important to receive legal advice as to any possible settlement. A mediator must be neutral so they will not push the case for one or other party. A solicitor can make sure your interests are protected and, even if just advising in the background, can let you know if any information is missing or what questions you should be asking.

Can a mediator draw up a binding agreement?

In some limited circumstances, a mediator may be able to assist with this. However this is only possible where there is no conflict between the parties. It is exceedingly rare for this to be the case. Care must be taken with the specific wording of the agreement as small differences in the way something is worded could be more beneficial for one party. This creates a conflict. It is also important to understand the complexities around implementing an agreement (most commonly, tax issues or lender/land registry requirements). Whilst solicitors cannot provide tax advice, they can flag these issues to you and ensure they are properly dealt with within the agreement.

Are there different types of mediation?

Yes and these should all be considered. When dealing with arrangements for children, some mediators are specifically trained to involve children in the mediation. Especially when considering older children, this can be a very useful way of hearing the child’s views in a neutral setting.

Another option which might be worth considering where emotions are high and there is already an element of animosity is Shuttle Mediation. This would involve the mediator ‘shuttling’ between the parties to discuss their views and proposals for settlement. It would mean the parties spend less (or no) time in the room together. This method of mediation may be less necessary post-pandemic, as the majority of mediators now provide online services.

In addition to traditional mediation, parties may want to consider Hybrid Mediation. This is where parties attend mediation with their solicitors so that they can receive advice at the time. This may be particularly important for parties who feel vulnerable or simply out of their depth. Often, matters can be resolved on the day, which can reduce costs overall and certainly would mean a swifter conclusion than in traditional mediation or indeed, if matters proceeded to court.

Whilst mediation can be a very useful tool for parties who want to reach an agreement amicably, it should not be relied on in isolation. It is important that both parties receive advice (both legal and often expert tax or accountancy advice) at key stages of negotiations.

What is the government-led family mediation scheme?

Thousands more separating parents will avoid stressful courtroom battles as the Government boosts its landmark family mediation scheme with an additional £1.3 million

The funding will provide 2,440 additional vouchers for mediation services – each worth £500 – with the aim of finding amicable solutions to couples’ disagreements and freeing up space in the family courts.

How can Hanne & Co help?

Whilst mediation can be a very useful tool for parties who want to reach an agreement amicably, it should not be relied on in isolation. It is important that both parties receive advice (both legal and often expert tax or accountancy advice) at key stages of negotiations.

Our family team believe that family & divorce requires a rather different approach to many other areas of the law. We pride ourselves on our high level of client care and communication and will handle your case in a sensitive and professional manner. If you want to find out more about how our team can help you, please contact one of the Family Law team on 02072280017.

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