Mediation is growing in popularity for resolving family issues and certainly has many advantages such as being quicker, cheaper, more flexible and a lot less stressful than going to court.
How does it work?
Mediation is an informal dispute resolution process that aims to assist separating or divorcing couples to settle family matters together by providing a neutral space for you to talk, listen and explore the options.
Both parties are encouraged to participate in the decision-making and propose workable solutions that best meet the needs of the family. It is usual that the mediator would invite you to attend individual as well as joint sessions.
The negotiations are conducted voluntarily and confidentially and always in a comfortable neutral setting. This means either party is free to walk away from the process at any time and not under any pressure to reach agreement.
Who provides this service?
In recent years the UK government has strongly encouraged the use of family mediators as an alternative to litigation.
When you make an application for a court order in relation to many types of family law disputes, you must show the court that you have at least considered family mediation, by having attended a mediation information and assessment meeting.
Mediators are not provided by the government however, and you will need to find the family mediator that you and your ex-partner are happy to work with. Your solicitor may be able to act as your mediator or may be able to help you find the right person to talk to, either at their firm or close by.
Mediators are trained to listen to you and your ex, as a neutral third party, and assist you and your former partner towards reaching agreement. They may have legal qualifications and/or be a member of the Family Mediation Council or the Family Mediator’s Association but they will not impose any solution on you, simply guide you toward reaching the best possible solution to the disagreement.
What type of matters can mediation be used for?
Mediation can be used for all kinds of family disputes, for example, problems concerning money, the family home, arrangements for children or the division of property and other assets.
Mediation is not limited to married couples, so civil partners, co-habitees and even grandparents can use mediation to try and settle disagreements relating to the family.
Making agreements reached legally binding
The aim of mediation is, of course, to agree arrangements about children, money, and property without having to go to court. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to reach agreement in the mediation sessions and it should be remembered that the settlement reached may be a compromised solution rather than your legal right. But mediation has the advantage that it is less adversarial, and it is likely that the parties remain on better relations in the long-term. Any settlement reached is legally binding, provided it is put into writing and signed by both parties.
Involving your solicitor
Usually, the disputing parties will have approached a solicitor to help them throughout the process of divorce or separation or with some other kind of family dispute. A good family lawyer should be able to advise on mediation and provide contact details of a local family mediator, and will even attend mediation sessions with you, if that would be useful. If an agreement is reached at the mediation session, it is usual for the solicitor to be instructed to draft the agreement into a legal binding document which is signed by both parties.
Mediation is an informal dispute resolution process. It is not, as many people believe, marriage counselling. Because it does not need to follow court procedure the process is much more flexible, and it can lead to a quicker resolution of your family dispute than litigation.
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