Family Mediation Frequently Asked Questions (and some answers!)
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Many couples who have decided to separate or divorce would prefer to negotiate their own private arrangements with the assistance of a family mediator rather than put their decisions in the hands of the courts. By making this choice they can ensure that future arrangements are tailor-made to suit the needs of their own particular family. They can discuss parenting issues and finances together in the presence of trained mediators who are completely neutral, who can help them consider options and who can give legal information (though not advice) when appropriate.
Family mediators encourage clients to retain their own solicitors for legal advice. If the mediation results in an agreed written summary then clients are advised to take the summary to their solicitors for discussion. The process of mediation itself, however, is always confidential and neither the summary nor the mediation discussions can be referred to in court. The exceptions to this are that financial information provided in the course of mediation can be referred to in court, and in some unusual circumstances, for example in cases of child abuse, the mediator is released from any duty of confidentiality.
The mediation summary is the outcome of successful private negotiations, not part of a court-directed process, and is therefore not binding. The clients' solicitors can use the summary to create a Consent Order which can be sent to the court for approval. The order is then binding upon the parties. It is unusual for couples to spend time and energy on negotiations, only to reject the outcome later on. If a mediator is concerned that a client is not negotiating in good faith, then this concern would usually be raised during the mediation.
Mediators always obtain adequate information through an extensive financial questionnaire, which follows the format of the financial questionnaire used in court proceedings. If necessary, up-to-date valuations are obtained of any property, pension, insurance policies and other assets. If full financial disclosure is withheld then the mediator would refer the clients back to their own solicitors for advice. Mediation can only be conducted in good faith and in the open.
It is of paramount importance that clients feel secure during mediation. Mediation is a voluntary process, and clients should never feel under any form of pressure, either before, during, or after sessions. Clients should always discuss concerns in confidence with the mediator at the preliminary 'screening' interview which the mediator will conduct. If the mediator takes the view at any stage that the client is in immediate need of the court protection, then the mediation will be terminated and the client advised to return to his or her solicitor. In some cases, however, violence can be viewed as an isolated outcome of tension which is unlikely to recur once circumstances are improved. In these cases, continued mediation can further reduce tension and improve communication.
Clients are free to discuss any issues they wish. Common topics include future arrangements for the children, and finances, including the family home and other capital. Some clients find it useful to discuss parenting arrangements, and mediation is usually successful in restoring constructive communication between parents at a time of tension and fear of the future. Children can be directly involved in the mediation process where appropriate and with the consent of all parties. Where children are not directly consulted, their needs are nevertheless regarded as paramount in the mediation process.
Research has shown that most couples reach agreement in mediation in only a third of the time it would take if they negotiated the same agreement through solicitors. The majority of mediations are concluded in three to six sessions, each lasting approximately one and a half hours. Occasionally, a family will have very complex finances and in such instances the mediation would last longer. The probable length of mediation is always fully discussed.
Even if, for one reason or another, mediation does not in your particular case result in an agreement, there will almost always be benefits from having attended mediation. For example, you will both have had a chance to tell your stories and to express any anger or disappointment in a safe place. You will have had time to consider the effect of your future arrangements on your children, and also to consider the position of other close relatives. Outstanding issues will have at least been clarified and narrowed down, even if there is no final agreement. Often you will return to your solicitor with complete financial disclosure which has been exchanged with your partner on an open basis, saving your own solicitor a good deal of work.
Our rates are highly competitive at £90 per hour per adult (under 18s free for parent/child mediation). There is no VAT or any other extra costs (e.g. all documentation/photocopying/postage is included). Any initial telephone consultation is also free of charge. As an example, an All Issues mediation lasting for four 90 minute sessions would cost each party £540 in total.