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What does family mediation involve?

Date:19 JAN 2018
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Chief Executive, NFM

This month thousands of couples across the country discovered that the Christmas holiday had been the last straw for their failing relationship, and decided to call time on their marriage. But what do they do next? Family Mediation Week runs from 22-26 January, aiming to highlight exactly what family mediation entails.

Even if we haven’t experienced it personally, we all know someone who’s been through a divorce. We’ve seen the impact on the emotions of the separating couple but also more importantly, the lasting effect it can have if children are involved.

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When a couple separates there are vital parenting arrangements to be sorted: where the children will live; when they’ll see the other parent; their education; maintenance and child support; holiday arrangements; what happens to the pet, and more besides. If they’re handled badly the repercussions last years and span generations.

Then there are material things: what happens to property, finance, debts and pensions? The process can deteriorate into a destructive, competitive and litigious contest as couples adopt the traditional ‘mindset’ of divorce.

This sees them head straight off to a solicitor and the court room for what’s usually a long, drawn out battle as they seek to score a ‘victory’ over their ex.

It can last months, if not years, and can cost the earth. And then finally, when the court delivers its verdict, the arrangements rarely suit anyone’s interests, least of all the children. The one person in the court room who knows hardly anything about the family – the judge – decides everyone’s future.

Separating couples are often completely unaware there is a simpler way to settle things – a way that keeps them in the driving seat, influencing and controlling the outcomes, rather than having the outcomes imposed upon them.

Family mediation does not try to keep couples together. It’s not counselling. Mediation accepts that change happens in our lives and, instead of dwelling on what might have been, it helps everyone involved move forward to the next stages of their lives – apart –in a positive way.

It’s a voluntary and confidential process in which a trained expert mediator helps couples discuss and negotiate all aspects of a divorce or separation, helping them reach joint decisions about the future.

By nature it’s less confrontational and stressful than a courtroom battle. In mediation the couple sit with a trained mediator to consider all the things that need to be settled. It’s not easy: discussing and making arrangements about children and possessions is difficult. There’s a lot at stake, and they’re things that truly matter. But mediators take simple, practical steps to reduce friction between the couple and, if necessary, the mediation can take place with the couple in separate rooms.

It’s significantly quicker than the courtroom route. Official figures on legally-aided mediation have shown that the average time for a mediated case to be completed is 110 days, compared to 435 days for court cases on similar issues. That’s nine and a half months of the anguish, stress and conflict of a long legal process saved by family mediation.

And mediation is usually more cost-effective than going to court. Data has shown the average cost per client of mediation is around a fifth of that for court cases. And legal aid remains available for mediation.

Mediators are trained in all aspects of family law and can provide vital support in property, finance and all the other things that count. The personal and focused approach is vital and enables the mediation process to be flexible; negotiated to suit the family’s unique circumstances. There are no off-the-shelf solutions in mediation – agreements reached are individual and tailored to a family’s unique needs.

Recent legislation means before separating couples can apply for a court order, they have to attend a mediation awareness meeting to see if it would be suitable for their own circumstances.

If you’re separating or divorcing this month, don’t write this off as a tick-box exercise. Successful family mediation can genuinely transform your family’s future.