When a marriage or relationship ends it can be challenging to amicably agree the logistics, particularly when negotiating the care of children and the split of money. Where the individuals are unable to agree a way forward, family mediation is a method of alternative dispute resolution that offers an alternative to legal proceedings.
Importantly, mediation is voluntary so all parties must be willing to participate. A third party will encourage the disputants to cooperate with one another, discuss viable solutions, negotiate outcomes and agree a way forward.
There are obvious benefits to doing this in a calm, non-confrontational setting that avoids court. Research has shown that family mediation can cost a quarter of the price and take a quarter of the time, when compared with going to court. Critically, it is also likely to return the best result for all those involved, as any outcomes are agreed to by all those participating.
What is a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM)?
Family mediation is more closely regulated than civil mediation and in recent years has been more strongly encouraged by family courts. Since April 2014, it has been compulsory to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making an application to court.
These meetings aim to establish whether mediation would be suitable way of resolving your dispute, and how likely it is to help you reach an agreement.
How a mediator can help
Only mediators accredited by the Family Mediation Council (FMC) are permitted to conduct a MIAM. The appointed mediator will advise the parties involved on all the available alternatives to court and provide plenty of information about the benefits of all the options. Mediation is based upon the cooperation and contribution of all parties to reach a mutually agreeable. The mediator’s job is to try and help find common ground between the two opposing parties. They will not give legal advice but they can suggest practical steps to help reach agreements. They will listen impartially to both parties views and create a calm atmosphere where hopefully an agreement can be reached that everyone is happy with.
Mediators will encourage participants to put aside personal differences and resolve to find a sensible outcome that – where relevant – considers the wishes and feelings of any children involved.
Preparing for mediation
If you decide to have family mediation, it would be prudent to think about what you want to achieve but also what you are willing to accept as part of finding a solution. This manner of preparation before you start the process, will ultimately make it more likely to succeed. We have provided some guidance on how to prepare for mediation and it is also sensible to bear in mind that if mediation is aiming to reach an agreement about money or property, financial disclosure forms will need to be submitted to the mediator prior to the mediation commencement.
The mediation process
There are several different types of mediation available. The various options can be particularly helpful if either party are uncomfortable with being in the same room, as there are options to protect and make vulnerable or sensitive individuals feel at ease.
The structure of mediation is very similar across all types; at the first mediation meeting, the mediator will open the proceedings with a statement about the case, it’s intricacies and the process what will happen. The mediator will then invite each party to give an opening or position statement. Depending on the style of mediation, the mediator will then drive discussion to try and reach a mutually agreeable outcome.
Once a resolution is agreed, a closing statement by the mediator will bring the proceedings to close and reiterate any final steps required to bring the agreement to fruition. A “memorandum of understanding” will be created by the mediator and provided to each party. These agreements are not legally binding in the sense of being enforceable in a court, but that is rarely necessary given the conciliatory nature of mediation.
Depending on the complexities of the case, mediation could be concluded in one, or continue over several sessions. It is also worth considering that because family mediation is a voluntary process, it can be can be suspended or terminated if any one party is uncomfortable or unwilling to take part.
Successful family mediation
Evidence suggests that where mediation has been used it is an extremely successful method of conflict resolution. In 2013 the Ministry of Justice reported that two‐thirds of couples who attended a single mediation session about child arrangements, reached a full agreement. Of those that went onto full mediation, almost 7 out of 10 also reached an agreement.
Family mediation has many benefits; not least having more control over the outcome and being less stressful than going to court. Mediation is a cost-effective, quick solution for resolving family disputes about money, property or children. It is also expanding rapidly online, which increases its versatility and practicality, thus ensuring further growth in popularity.