The Cost of Family Mediation
What will it cost me?
One of the first questions mediators get asked is “How much will mediation cost?” Sadly, there is no straightforward answer, as every case is unique and comes with its own challenges. Some people come to mediation with one specific issue to discuss and other separating couples come with complex finances that need to be agreed. No two cases are the same and as a result no exact time frame can be given, which can be frustrating to hear. Another influencing factor in the timing of cases is how well people work together. The longer it takes the more it costs. The question usually then moves to “What is the average time that people spend in mediation?” The answer to this is about three sessions, so it is always advised to budget for a minimum of three. If matters get it sorted out quicker, then all well and good. What can be assured is that mediation will be cheaper than going to court!
Solicitor Costs vs. Mediation Fees
The Office of National Statistics published some very interesting figures relating to the difference in costs between mediators and solicitors. The average cost per person for mediation is £675 in comparison with the average cost of going to court with a solicitor being £2823. That is an average saving of £2148. These figures are a few years old now, so it would be anticipated that the gap has become even wider. At our firm the cost for mediation is £120 per hour, which is the average costs for mediators. The average cost for a family solicitor varies from £110 to £410 plus depending on experience.
In the market solicitors will offer varying packages and prices, so it is always best to shop around and remember to read the small print, as a lot of deals state that the fee quoted is for divorces that are not contested. This basically means that you are both going to a lawyer with everything sorted out!
What does a MIAM cost?
Mediation has different stages and this can impact on the cost. The first stage is the MIAM. This stands for Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. It usually last about 45 minutes. In attendance at this meeting is just you and the family mediator. The meeting looks at your case and whether mediation is appropriate. There is a charge for this and firms can charge from £120 to £250. The more expensive mediators tend to be in London. Always make sure that your mediator is accredited and you can do this by searching the Family Mediation Council register: https://www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk/
It is also important to check to ensure that your fee includes the issuing of the mediation certificate. A lot of firms offer a low MIAM fee and then charge an additional cost to issue the certificate, which can be up to £50. At Direct Mediation Services our fee includes the certificate needed to make the court application.
If a case is suitable for mediation, the mediator will write, email or call the other party, inviting them to a MIAM. This should be at no extra cost. They have five working days to respond to the invitation. The invitation letter does speak about costs and explains the different options – privately funded mediation and Legal Aid funding. Our letter states that there is a simple pricing structure of £120 per person per hour, but at the same time we explain that Legal Aid is also available for clients in specific financial circumstances.
How do I pay and what is included?
Many private clients ask when payment will be taken. We give all clients a choice; they can pay by bank transfer (BACS), credit or debit card, or online via Calendly on our website. For our credit and debit payments we ask clients to pay over the telephone or pay by link. We use WorldPay, which is used and trusted by thousands of businesses across the world. What is important to remember is that payment is taken before the mediation appointment. If payment is not made, the appointment will need to be arranged. We do not take cash for safety reasons or cheques.
On our website we have installed Calendly, which is useful for some clients, as they can make their appointment without speaking to anyone. They just choose the date and time that suits them and then make payment by credit or debit card. The payment platform that is used is Stripe, which is another trusted banking service.
On some occasions we may ask for a non-refundable deposit of £20, especially if a client is attending one of our satellite centres. This is because we have a high number of no-shows, which wastes the time of our mediators. The deposit scheme does not apply to clients who are Legally Aided.
We are often asked if there are payment schemes where people can pay their mediation fees over a number of weeks and months. Unfortunately, we do not have this option, so it is really important to budget for mediation. The mediator will always be willing to explain any costs during the mediation process.
The £120 per person per hour rate is for the time the mediator spends in the mediation room. In complex cases (mainly finance cases) the mediator may need time outside the mediation room to prepare, or to produce a document required for the case; the documents commonly charged for are: Open Financial Statement, Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), Parenting Plans. This time is chargeable. It is expected that the mediator inform clients many hours they are going to spend. Preparation and writing up of documents are generally charged at the same rate.
What is included in the hourly rate is the session record. Like any business meeting, this is a record of the key points discussed in the mediation session; however, it is not a record which list every single point made by each person. The session records are usually sent out a few days after the session. The records may also contain work that needs to be done by clients before the next session.
That may have been the case in the past, but since April 2013 it has become a very expensive way for nearly everyone. That’s when Legal Aid – which pays legal costs for people on benefits or a low income – stopped being available for nearly all Family Court matters. But there are other ways to resolve problems. One popular alternative is family mediation, a sort of ‘refereed discussion’ which aims to help parents come to an agreement jointly rather than confronting and battling each other in court. And what’s more – Legal Aid is still available for this. Even if you don’t qualify for Legal Aid, your ex-partner might, which would also pay the costs of your MIAM (Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting) and first mediation session. It is reported that the average person saves £2,148 by going to mediation instead of having a court hearing.
Mediation can help you even if communication between you has broken down so much that you can’t be in the same room as your ex-partner. We can do mediation via WhatsApp, for example, so you are in the comfort and safety of your own home. Even if your mediation is taking place in the mediator’s office, we can arrange the session so you are in separate rooms and the mediator moves between you. This is called shuttle mediation.
The courts prefer most matters to be settled through mediation and they generally will not accept the court form unless a MIAM certificate has been signed by an accredited mediator. Couples usually have to show that they have considered mediation, so there is literally nothing to lose by coming to mediation before approaching the courts.
Who pays what?
Another question that is regularly asked is “Do I have to pay for my ex-partner?” The answer is no, but it may be something that clients may wish to consider depending on personal financial circumstances. Most people who come to mediation pay for their own mediation fees, but if a person is on a low income or benefits, they can always apply for Legal Aid. In some cases, the person who has come to mediation first, sometimes wants mediation to start as quickly as possible and as a result asks to pay for themselves and their ex-partner. Some people worry that this will impact the impartiality of the mediator, but this is not the cost, as one of the key duties of a mediator is to remain impartial irrespective of any external factors.
Are discounts available?
Are there any discounts? It is always worth asking the question as some firms do have package deals, but at Direct Mediation Services we have a simple pricing structure that is not subject to discounts. All mediation fees need to be paid in advance of the session taking place. If the session goes over the paid for time period, the mediator will stop the meeting and ask clients if they are in a financial position to keep going. This normally only happens when good progress is being made and extra time might be critical in the case.
Understanding Private vs. Legal Aid
Despite there being no discounts at Direct Mediation Services, costs for mediation can start to vary due to a number of circumstances. Here are three scenarios, which will help to explain when these apply; however, just for clarity Client 1 is the person who first approaches the mediation firm:
- Client 1 – Private & Client 2 – Private. This is the easiest combination to understand as each client is charged the private rate.
- Client 1 – Private & Client 2 – Legally Aided. In situations like this Client 1 will have paid their private fee for their MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting). At this stage they would not know if Client 2 is entitled to Legal Aid. If Client 2 is successfully assessed for Legal Aid and attends their first MIAM session. Client 1 is entitled to a refund of the fee paid. This is because when one person is entitled to Legal Aid (and the other is not) the funding pays for the other person’s MIAM session and the first hour of a joint mediation session. Client 2’s funding from the Legal Aid continues until mediation is finished. Client 1 must request the refund by email.
- Client 1 – Legally Aided & Client 2 – Private. This combination sometimes helps get the respondent client into the mediation room, when they know it is not going to cost them anything to have a MIAM and the first hour of mediation. It is always explained at the beginning that costs will incur after the first hour of a joint mediation session.
- Client 1 – Legal Aid & Client 2 – Legal Aid. This is again an easy combination to comprehend. There will be no bills at any point, as the Legal Aid Agency will be funding the case in full.
What is not included
Additional costs can occur, but these are rare, but one of the common costs is appointing some to professionally value the family home if it is a financial case. However, most mediators will suggest that clients agree on contacting three local estate agents and ask for a valuation, which is a much cheaper option. Another cost can be a Child Consultation. This is priced at the same amount as a regular mediation session and both clients are responsible for the costs jointly. We have a web page which gives useful information about the work specialist mediators do with children.
The cost of court
Within a client’s budget there should always be enough money to make an application to court. If the dispute is about child arrangements, then the C100 application to court is £215. Before making the application, it is necessary to ask the mediator for the mediation certificate, sometimes called a MIAM form. Without this certificate the application will not be accepted. The same applies if a client is making an application for a Financial Consent Order. The court fee for this is £50.
If an applicant is on a low income or specific benefits, they may be able to apply to be exempt from paying the court fees. This form can be found online, at the court, or the Personal Support Unit (PSU), which is often in the court building. The form is called “EX160 Apply for help with fees”.
Another additional cost which needs to be considered is whether a family solicitor is going to be instructed or not. The gov.uk website states that solicitor rates vary from £110 to £410 per hour. As a result, fee may run into thousands of pounds.
Remember, there is nothing stopping clients from representing themselves in court hearings. There is generally a Legal Advisor in court who can explain the legal process during the hearing. Most people are too frightened to ask, but the court staff are generally happy to answer questions.
Remember to read the small print
Sometimes mediation sessions need to be cancelled. There is a Refunds Policy listed on our website. All mediators should have such a policy and it can usually be found on their website or possibly in the client care letter.
Separation, divorce, dealing with child arrangements or finances can be expensive and it often happens at a time when money is tight. Mediators do understand this and clients worry that mediation sessions will just continue forever. Mediators will not keep cases running if they do not feel that progress is being made, or if one party is wasting time. Also, if clients are working within a budget, it is best to always let the mediator know at the start of the process.
At Direct Mediation Services, we are always willing to listen to questions, whether they are about costs or applying for Legal Aid. We understand that during difficult times money can be a great pressure and transparency is always needed.