Mediation is a place for separated and separating parents to talk about their children, property and finances. It is a form of dispute resolution that offers parents a safe place to have an open and honest discussion. Mediation is confidential – everything you say is private and will not be used in any court proceedings.
Trained family mediators are non-judgemental and impartial. They do not tell you what to do, and you remain in control of the decision making. A mediator’s role is to support you in finding solutions that work for everyone.
Mediation works best when parents want to find a way forward and sort things out. People who use mediation sessions to resolve their disagreements usually come to an agreement sooner and at less cost than those who use solicitors and go to court. Family mediation can also reduce ongoing conflict.
You are required to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before you can start court proceedings. This session can help you decide whether mediation is right for you. Using mediation does not stop you from going to court later if you still feel you need to.
Prices vary but if you are on a low income you may qualify for legal aid. The number of meetings you will need depends on the complexity of issues that need to be resolved. Issues about arrangements for your children can take one or two meetings but if you need to discuss property and financial issues as well, you may need three to five meetings.
Mediators can give you legal information but they will not give you legal advice. You can always take legal advice from another source before finalising an agreement you've reached in mediation.
Agreements made in mediation are not legally binding. However, experience shows that agreements made voluntarily are more likely than court orders to reflect children’s and parents’ needs, and are therefore more likely to last. It also helps to improve understanding, restore communication and build trust. If necessary, agreements made in mediation can be used as the basis of a court order. In the case of property and financial issues on divorce, a memorandum of understanding produced in mediation can be used as the basis of a consent order.
Although the mediator will provide encouragement, you will not be pressured into agreeing anything and it is up to you to make the final decision. If you are discussing property and financial issues, you are advised to obtain legal advice on your proposals before finalising them.
Usually, only the mediator and the parents are present at meetings. Occasionally it is helpful to have a supporter or a legal advisor present at a meeting but both parents would need to agree to this.
Some mediation services offer children the opportunity to be included in the process. Research has found that children feel better if they have an opportunity to have their say about decisions that affect them.
It is not unusual to feel that agreement is impossible, especially if your previous attempts have failed. However, mediation is a different approach and the presence of a trained mediator can make a big difference to the kind of conversation you can have. Mediation may work where other methods have failed.
Mediators are trained to make sure both parents’ views are heard and understood. They do not take sides so they will not be influenced if one person is a better negotiator than the other.
Mediation is voluntary, so people can’t be forced to come. However, the mediator will write to your ex explaining the purpose of the meeting and offering to meet them alone to discuss their options. This can be a helpful for parents who feel reluctant about using the service.
For further information and advice about family mediation, visit Family Mediation Council (FMC).