21 Things You NEED to Know About UK Family Mediation in 2021
#1 What is UK Family Mediation in 2021?
Family mediation is a process in which an accredited Family Mediator supports you and family members to communicate more effectively, usually following a divorce or separation.
The mediator will support everyone to look at the issues they are facing, and through the mediation try to help the whole family make arrangements for the future.
These issues can be financial, or may be linked to child arrangements (often referred to as contact, residency or custody).
#2 How long does family mediation take?
There are no specific timeframes for family mediation, and it very much depends on the number of issues that are brought to mediation and how the people involved communicate with each other. The more disagreements the longer it generally takes!
However, the majority of couples generally come to an agreement after approximately two or three sessions.
#3 What if we don’t reach an agreement in family mediation?
Whilst mediation can be very successful in resolving family disputes and facilitating positive agreements, there are unfortunately cases where mediation is unable to resolve a situation. Mediation can end at any stage in the process – sometimes cases do not pass the initial MIAM – but it is always best to attempt mediation and the courts actively encourage this. Sometimes clients can have a few mediation sessions and then realise that there is no progression, and choose to end mediation.
If you do not reach an agreement at mediation, the mediator will sign the necessary court form and the case can then be heard by a judge or a magistrate.
It is always to be remembered, that during the mediation process, the decision making is in your hands. In court you give it over and lose that control.
#4 Should I choose a solicitor or family mediator?
Many people when experiencing any dispute that involves the law will immediately move to contact a lawyer. Our loved television dramas and films show us that where family disputes begin that the norm is to immediately get on the phone and instruct a solicitor. We can’t think of one programme or film that shows a person going through a family dispute to contact a family mediator! What usually happens in the soap operas is a heated exchange and a resulting dramatic court room battle. In reality, this is only good to watch on the television.
Family solicitors undoubtably have their place in family disputes and a good family mediation would always encourage their clients to consult a lawyer for legal advice should their case call for it. In the first instance, however, it should be actively encouraged that people going through family disputes should make an appointment with a family mediator first. This will minimise further upset to the family and hopefully make plans that everyone can live with, without having to go through a court battle.
An important fact to consider, however, when choosing between a mediator and a solicitor is that of legal advice. Mediators cannot give any legal advice, but they can give you legal information, so during the process do not be alarmed if the mediator asks you if you have had legal advice regarding specific issues. Some people choose to have both a solicitor and a mediator at the same time, but this is not necessary.
If money is tight, or you are on a low income, there may be community law groups near to where you live. Many have weekly legal surgeries, where you can discuss your case with a qualified solicitor.
Another option is speaking to Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), who may also be able to guide you.
#5 Do I still need a solicitor or lawyer to give advice if I have a mediator?
As mentioned above – It is important to remember, that family mediators are not family solicitors. They can give legal information, but not advice to you. Some clients choose to instruct a solicitor whilst mediating so that they can receive legal advice outside of the mediation session – others choose not to. It is your choice and it is important to weigh this decision accordingly. Solicitors can be very helpful, but they can also be very costly. The decision truly does depend on the nature of your case.
During the mediation process, your family mediator may talk to you about seeking legal advice. The mediator is impartial and will always remain neutral. This means that they will not take sides.
It is necessary to keep in mind, that an agreement made in mediation is not legally binding, so if you want to make it legally binding in law, you will need to seek legal advice. Agreements made at mediation can be made into legally binding agreements by using a consent order – it is strongly advised that you instruct a solicitor to do this.
#6 How do we organise the discussion in family mediation?
Mediation is about working with your mediator and ex-partner, to try to find an agreement you and your family can live with post separation. The goal is to reach compromises and agreements that work for all involved.
In child arrangement cases, your child’s needs will be at the centre of all discussion held, and their welfare will be at the heart of any agreements reached.
To benefit the most from mediation, you should put together an agenda, which lists the points you wish to discuss during the mediation process. Your mediator will facilitate discussions and support you both to have a conversation, rather than an argument. Mediation can be really useful for ex-partners to hear each others views in a safe space. The mediator will keep conversations on track, as per the agenda developed, which can be useful in guiding discussions toward positive outcomes. It can be difficult to hone in on specific issues, particularly where there is conflict between the parties involved, but your mediator can support you to manage this productively.
#7 Is mediation compulsory in the UK?
Whilst mediation is not compulsory per se, it is strongly encouraged by the courts that mediation is attempted prior to court. In fact, before applying to the court for a child arrangements order, there is a requirement that mediation has been attempted in the first instance. There are some exemptions to this rule, which can be found here. If you refuse to attend mediation and you go to court, you may have to explain your reasons to a judge or a magistrate. Ultimately, the courts do anticipate that you will try mediation with your ex-partner before going to court, unless there are mitigating circumstances, such as domestic violence or safe guarding issues.
#8 How long does it take for a divorce to be finalised following mediation?
Your divorce timetable very much depends on how you and your ex-partner work together.
If it is contested, your divorce may take many months, or even years, to go through the courts.
If your divorce is unchallenged, it should take between three to four months from sending in the divorce petition, to the pronouncement of your Decree Nisi.
#9 Can mediation help you get a divorce?
By going to mediation, it can help you and your ex-partner get a divorce quicker. This is mainly because you are communicating, whether it be in shuttle or face-to-face.
Your family mediator can help you agree on the grounds of the divorce, child arrangements and the finances following your separation.
The mediator will always recommend that you both have independent legal advice from a qualified person. A family mediator is impartial, so he can give you legal information, but not legal advice (even if your mediator is a qualified solicitor) – this is the job of a family solicitor.
#10 Can I get Legal Aid?
Legal Aid is normally available for people who are on low income or are receiving qualifying passporting benefits, such as Universal Credit, Income-Related Employment and Support Allowance or Job Seekers Allowance, and Income Support.
If you qualify for Legal Aid, you will receive your family mediation at no cost.
The Legal Aid assessment will be carried out by someone who is trained. They will ask you to provide specific evidence, so that it can be reviewed and a decision made. There are a number of factsheets, which outline the evidence required.
If you receive Legal Aid, and your ex-partner does not, the cost of their Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) and first mediation session will be met by the Legal Aid Agency. After this, they will need to pay privately.
#11 How does family mediation work?
Family mediation is very structured and follows a specified process.
The first step is for you to have a MIAM (Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting).
During the MIAM, which normally lasts between 45 minutes to an hour, the mediator will talk to you about the issues you want to discuss during the mediation process.
Your ex-partner will also have a similar meeting. You attend these separately and usually on different days.
If mediation is felt to be appropriate, you will then attend a mediation session with your ex-partner. This can be face-to-face or in shuttle. Shuttle means that you and your partner will have separate sessions and will not be in the same room as each other. Whilst all of our appointments are being offered virtually, you will not be on the same video call as your ex-partner should you opt for shuttle mediation.
The mediation sessions usually last between sixty and ninety minutes, during which you will talk through the issues you are both facing, with the support of the mediator. The aim will be to try to find an agreement you can both live with.
To make them legally binding, you would then need to take them to a family lawyer.
#12 How much does the average divorce cost in the UK?
You probably have guessed this, but divorces are always cheaper if you can avoid court. The National Audit Report in 2012 stated that the average cost per client for mediation was £675.
The average cost per client for cases going to court was £2,823. This in an average cost saving of £2,148.
#13 How much will family mediation cost me?
The average family mediation firms charge between £100-200 per hour. Direct Mediation Services offer standard appointments fixed at £120 per person, per session.
The mediation sessions are usually an hour for child matters and an hour and a half for financial matters.
Family mediators should make this clear before you attend a session. If not, ask them before you start.
If you come to an agreement, your mediator will need to write this up, and there is usually a charge for this.
For financial matters, you usually receive an Open Financial Statement (which lists the financial assets that you and your ex-partner have) and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) detailing the decision making process and what proposals have been made. This is a big document, which will take the mediator time to write-up, and the cost of this is split between you and your ex-partner.
For child matters that are agreed, a Parenting Plan is written, which outlines how you both will spend time with your child or children. Again, the mediator should give you details of any costs involved. If not, it is important to ask.
Some family mediators have Legal Aid funding. Direct Mediation Services has over 200 plus venues in England and Wales for mediation. This means that if you are financially eligible, your sessions may be paid for by the Legal Aid Agency
If you are eligible for Legal Aid, you will have nothing to pay for your family mediation.
If your ex-partner does not get Legal Aid funding, but you do, your ex-partner will have their Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) and first mediation, at no cost. Following the first mediation session, they would have to pay the private rate.
#14 What are the advantages of family mediation?
Here are some of the advantages of using family mediation to resolve disputes:
- Mediators do not take sides, make judgements, or give advice. The role if very different from instructing a solicitor or having a judge make decisions.
- Mediation keeps decision-making in the hands of the parties. The mediator is there to support families to make decisions about their future.
- Whilst also supporting in decision-making, family mediation supports families through challenging changes and restructuring.
- It is in your children’s best interests. No one disputes the fact that when parents co-operate, there is a positive impact on the children. Many parents, who have attended mediation, say that mediation helps them maintain important family relationships
- Family mediation does not have adversarial approach like court, where people often try to ‘win’ against each other, without looking at the overall picture.
- The mediation process is much less stressful for families and it reinforces and strengthens effective communications between the people taking part.
- Attending family mediation is generally quicker than going to court. The National Audit Report stated that the mediation route takes an average of 110 days, compared with 435 days for non-mediated cases. This is a substantive saving of 325 days (10.5 months).
- Family mediation is usually cheaper than going to court. The National Audit Report of 2012 states that the average cost per client for mediation was £675. The average cost per client for cases going to court was £2,823, which meant there was an average saving of £2,148. Eight years later, it is anticipated that the savings will be even greater.
Many people believe that court will give them the answer they are looking for. In truth, you are giving the decision making process to someone who does not know you or your family, and only has a very short period of time to decide on what they think is best. On many occasions families end up with a court order that does not suit anyone. With family mediation, the decision making is in your hands, not a stranger’s. An accredited family mediator will assist you and your ex to find a way forward that works for you and your family and importantly, they will also explain how you both can make this agreement legally binding.
Courts are sometimes perceived to be hostile environments, and many people say that they feel exposed and distressed when in court. With family mediation, agreements can be drawn up in an environment that is safe & confidential. Remember that mediation is always confidential – what is said in the mediation room stays in the mediation room. Mediation sessions are usually held at the mediator’s office, a neutral venue or it can be online using video conferencing such as Zoom.
#15 Are family mediators qualified professionals?
As with any profession it is vital that the mediator you are engaging is fully qualified and registered. All accredited family mediators in England and Wales are listed on the website of the Family Mediation Council (FMC).
The FMC has a search option, which allows you to find a mediator near to where you live. There are two types of family mediator: trainee and accredited. This is very clearly stated on the profile of every mediator on the register. All accredited mediators have completed substantial training to a high level and have also compiled a professional portfolio, which takes approximately one to two years to finish.
Every year family mediators have to complete a specified number of hours of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) to satisfy a PPC (Professional Practice Consultant). Also the mediator also has to undertake a certain number of hours of family mediation each year.
All accredited family mediators have to have professional indemnity insurance and in addition to this, every mediator has to be a member of a professional organisation, such as The College of Mediators, The Family Mediation Association, Resolution.
#16 What happens if I say “no” to mediation?
Family mediation is an entirely voluntary process, so no one is going to make you attend. The choice to mediate falls to both parties and both parties need to individually agree to progress.
What you do need to remember is, that if you don’t attend or do not wish to continue with family mediation, you may have to explain why to a District Judge or a bench of family magistrates.
There is also the chance, that the family court may send your case back to mediation, if they think it is suitable.
The family court is very clear, in that it does not see its role to parent children. Parenting is the job of the parents. It is only in extreme and dire situations that the court should intervene in lives of families and issue an order.
#17 When is family mediation not appropriate?
Before making an application to the family court, it is a legal requirement to undertake a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM).
Your ex will also be invited to attend a MIAM, but at a different time as you!
The idea of a MIAM is to see if family mediation would be suitable, rather than going through court.
However, in some situations mediation is not an appropriate way forward:
- If you or your ex-partner has made an allegation of domestic violence against the other person. It is to be noted that you will need to show evidence of this to the court, such as a police investigation or an injunction being put in place.
- If the court application you are making, is linked to a matter which is already in the family courts and in which you are involved.
- If there is a risk to life or the safety of the person making the court application, or their family or their home is at risk.
- The case is regarding finances and you or your wife, husband or civil partner (the respondent) is bankrupt.
- You, your wife, husband or civil partner are in agreement and there is no dispute.
- In the event of you not knowing where your wife, husband, or civil partner is.
- You want to submit a court application but for certain reasons you do not wish to inform your wife, husband, or civil partner before.
- At the time of the court application you are involved with social services, because there are concerns about the wellbeing and safety of your child/ren.
- There is not a family mediator within 15 miles of where you live, or you have got in touch with three mediators based within 15 miles of where you reside and you cannot get an appointment with any of them within 15 working days.
- You or your wife, husband or ex-partner cannot access a mediator’s office, because one of you has a disability. However, it must be remembered that if the mediator can provide the appropriate accommodation, then you will both still be required to attend the meeting.
- An accredited family mediator records on the court form that mediation is not suitable, i.e. the other person is not willing to attend a MIAM.
- In the past four months you attempted mediation but it had not been successful. An accredited mediator has to confirm this and confirm that mediation is not the best way for you to resolve your dispute.
- If you or your ex-partner do not normally live in either England or Wales, and therefore, as a result cannot be considered as “habitually resident”.
#18 What is the family mediation process?
Family mediation is something that no one ever expects to undertake or even thinks about, until it is needed. It is a process which is not known to many people, so coming to a mediation session can be somewhat daunting. We have created a series of videos to help understand the family mediation process.
Initial meeting with an accredited family mediator (Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting) MIAM
The first meeting with a family mediator is referred to as a MIAM (Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting). During this meeting you have the chance to see how mediation can help you and your family. This meeting is generally between 45 – 60 minutes and during this time, you will discuss:
- The family mediation process.
- If family mediation, or another type of dispute resolution, is the right decision for managing you and your family’s issues. Other kinds of dispute resolution to be considered are collaborative law, lawyer negotiations, arbitration and court.
- Possible positive outcomes of family mediation and other types of dispute resolution.
- The number of hours of mediation you may require.
- The costs of undertaking mediation.
- Assessing to see if you could get family mediation at no charge via Legal Aid.
The Agreement to Mediate
During the initial mediation session with your ex-partner, the mediator will explain the ground rules and what is expected of everyone in the mediation room. This information is written down in full in a document called Agreement to Mediate. After having gone through the document, you and your ex will be asked to sign it, if you agree to the terms.
Below are the different mediation models, which the family mediator will discuss with you:
A) Sole mediation is where you, your ex-partner and the accredited mediator meet in one room to discuss the issues you are dealing with. As mentioned before, sessions are generally between sixty and ninety minutes. A question commonly asked is, how many sessions will it take to sort out our problems? The answer very much depends on the people taking part in mediation room and the issues being discussed; however, most people finish mediation within two to three sessions. This is the most common type of mediation.
B) Shuttle mediation is the second most common type of mediation. This is when you and your former partner do not want, or cannot be in the same room together. In these situations, the mediator goes between the two rooms to carry out the discussions. It is a very helpful tool for people who have had volatile relationships in the past and personal safety may be a worry. One disadvantage of shuttle mediation is the increased time it takes to carry out, and as a result, the costs can be a little more.
C) Co-mediation is when there are two mediators. This mediation model is sometimes used when there is a high level of conflict between the two people coming to mediation. An additional reason for bringing in an extra mediator may be because of a complexity of an issue being discussed, which requires a specialist.
D) Child Consultations – at the heart of family mediation is the well-being of any children concerned. Sometimes, if a child is old enough, it is good to have input from them. As a parent, you can be assured that your child or children will not be asked by the specially qualified mediator to make any choices about their personal living arrangements. Child consultations are only done if both you and your ex-partner agree. Parental authority is always respected by the mediator carrying out the child consultation.
If you and your ex agree to proposals discussed in mediation, your mediator will discuss with you both about how these can be turned into a court order and if it is necessary. For child arrangements, the courts always consider the no order principle. Magistrates and judges in the family court endeavour not to make orders, as it is believed that parents should not need an order to parent their child; however, if there is a history of child arrangements being broken, the courts may decide that it is necessary, in order to give the child stability. With financial agreements made in mediation, mediators will encourage that a financial consent order be sought. This can be done via a solicitor or directly via the courts.
Sometimes mediation is not successful and in such circumstances, the mediator will talk about what other options are available to resolve the dispute, such as arbitration.
#19 Is mediation a confidential process?
In the initial session, the mediator will stress that the mediation process is confidential and that what is said during the mediation is legally privileged. This means, that what is said by anyone during discussions cannot be then used later as evidence, if the case progresses to court. This allows people to speak freely about varying different options and to think outside the box. The only time the mediator can break the confidentiality of mediation, is when there is an admission to criminal activity, or the mediator believes that the welfare of a child or vulnerable person is at risk (safeguarding). The mediator will give a clear explanation about what action they will take.
#20 Understanding family mediation & financial cases
Financial mediation is for people who want to reach an agreement about finances, post separation or divorce, which can include property, such as the family home. It is impossible to say how many mediation sessions it will take to find an agreement, but usually it takes anything from between two and four meetings (each meeting is usually 90 minutes). If the finances are complex, then be prepared that it may be longer. Generally speaking, the success of financial mediation cases is in the preparation and collection of financial information, before starting the mediation process. The mediation firm will send out a financial information pack, which will need completing with as much detail as possible. In addition to this, up-to-date bank account statements will need to be provided. It is vital to provide as much information about mortgages, property valuations, insurance policies, endowments and any other financial investments, such as stocks and shares. It cannot be stressed enough to do this as early as possible, so that when you attend your first mediation session, you will be prepared and your time in mediation will be effective. It is important to remember, that you need to disclose all your financial assets. This includes jewellery, cars and those off-shore bank accounts in the British Virgin Islands! It is important to not just count assets, but also debts, which may be credit or store cards. In addition, there may be bank loans, or even ones from family members. By getting all this information together, it will allow for everyone to plan their future finances more effectively.
Financial Case Study
John and Jane had been in a relationship for over fifteen years at the time they separated. Jane was a very successful business owner and had over 100 employees. She was angry, because during their relationship John had tried to make a career as a stockbroker, but had not succeeded. At the first mediation session, Jane said ‘I was always against you being a stockbroker and now, because you don’t earn enough to live on, you expect me to pay alimony. You are a total disgrace of a man.’
The power dynamic in this mediation session was interesting, as the male did not play the usual gender role of the financial provider. John was in fact ashamed of his financial situation and failure as a stockbroker. He had had legal advice and was told that he had every right to alimony. However, as a man he felt confliction between his identity as a man, who society expects to provide for himself, and his need for money to survive. In mediation he broke down in tears a number of times, as he felt so ashamed. The mediator decided to move to shuttle, after having started face-to-face, as the power imbalance was too great. Shuttle mediation allowed John the space to think independently and not under pressure. John and Jane finally were able to come to a financial agreement, which allowed them both to move on with their lives.
#21 Family mediation & child arrangement cases
Many separated parents find it a challenge to organise the time that each child spends with their parent. The most common problem is not being able to talk with each other effectively. After a relationship has come to an end, talking to your ex-partner can be very difficult and emotions can run high. This can make having an everyday conversation about child arrangements very difficult, or basically impossible. In mediation, your mediator will discuss with you both about communication strategies and possible rules.
The introduction of new partners can also make it difficult for parents and children. Such changes are not uncommon, as adults move on with their lives and start new families. Mediators may talk about clarifying new partners’ roles and how and when they should be introduced to the family.
Families are becoming ever more diverse, and today families come in all different shapes and sizes, from the conventional nuclear family to single parents, adoptive parents and children being raised by grandparents. Around 20,000 young people in Britain are growing up with same-sex parents and many children have lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans parents or family. The commonality between all these differing families is the same love that is felt for children.
LGBT+ Case Study
Michelle and Angelina were in a same sex relationship. They were close friends with a gay couple, Matthew and Teddy. All four of them wanted children, so they decided to conceive children, mixing the sperm of both men and then inseminating both women artificially. What had been planned, was for two children to be born together to the four parents. Unfortunately, only one baby girl was born, but initially this did not cause a problem, as Michelle, Angelina, Matthew and Teddy all played an active part in the child’s life. There was no signed agreement by the parents about their roles and responsibilities. When the girl was five years old the relationship between the parents started to fall apart, and it became apparent that intervention was needed. The four parents went to family mediation to try and sort out the problems they were facing, and to define their individual roles within the family.
The mediation sessions focused on the legal issues regarding the recognition of each person’s parenting rights and their parental duties. The mediator constantly brought the adults back to their shared concern, which was acting in the best interest of their daughter. This helped the parents agree to having shared contact with the girl.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does the mediation process take?
There are no specific timeframes for family mediation. It really depends on the number of issues that are to be discussed in mediation, and how well you and your ex-partner work together. However, normally most people manage to resolve their issues in two to three sessions.
Are family mediators qualified professionals?
It is really important that you make sure your family mediator is fully qualified. All accredited family mediators in England and Wales are listed on the Family Mediation Council website.
What happens if I say “no” to an invitation to mediation?
Family mediation is a voluntary process, so no one is telling you that you have to go. However, what you do need to remember is that if you don’t attend, you may have to explain your reasons to a District Judge or a bench of family magistrates.
Is mediation a confidential process?
The mediation process is confidential, and what is said during the mediation process is legally privileged. This means, that what is discussed in mediation cannot be then used later as evidence, if the case progresses to court.
Many people who divorce or separate do not think about the option of family mediation and go immediately to a family lawyer. You may want to talk to an accredited mediator, to see if family mediation could help you and your family, instead of costly and lengthy legal action in the courts. By using family mediation, there is the possibility that you could save a lot of money and time in court.
We are an award-winning firm with experienced mediators accredited by the Family Mediation Council.
The mediation process starts with a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM), which is priced at £120 (including VAT). This is a meeting, which you attend alone with a mediator. During it, you will talk about your situation and issues you are facing. The cost per hour per person always remains the same, if your case progresses to family mediation.
The feedback from our clients has been positive. We are sure that family mediation will be a good starting point to hopefully, finding an answer to your family issues.
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, said “Dialogue is the most effective way of resolving conflict.” Mediation gives people, whether that is you, a friend or a member of your family, the platform and structure to have those discussions to find an agreement. As Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
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