Family mediation is a voluntary process for resolving disputes following relationship breakdown. Mediation can be appropriate for any kind of family unit, whether married or unmarried, civil partners, living together or separated, divorced or not and with or without children. What is required is a willingness by each party to find solutions to problems by means of sensible discussion. The mediator will need to be satisfied that there will be sufficient goodwill and co-operation to make the process a success.
Rather than the issues going to Court for a judge to decide, a neutral mediator helps the parties to arrive at proposals and arrangements by discussion, in a co-operative and stress-free environment. If entered into in good faith by both parties, mediation can provide a far less costly and acrimonious outcome than the judicial process. Relationship breakdown, children and financial/property/pension issues, or all three (termed "All Issues") can all be dealt with in family mediation.
Family mediators come from a variety of backgrounds but are often specialist family law solicitors who are totally familiar with the legal complexities surrounding relationship breakdown. The mediation itself is by discussion between the parties, and the mediator's role is to assist the parties to focus the discussion on the issues in dispute. The mediator can facilitate discussion by providing legal information, but cannot give advice, cannot take sides, cannot provide counselling, and cannot make decisions for the parties. The mediator is neither a judge nor an arbitrator.
Prior to commencing mediation, the mediator will assess each party individually to ensure that mediation is appropriate and likely to succeed. The mediator will not proceed with mediation unless satisfied that the parties will feel safe and will be committed to the process and that they will be completely honest in their disclosures of information, particularly of a financial nature. The mediator will require the same information from both parties that would be required if their matter were to go to Court.
Family mediation is a confidential process. The mediator cannot reveal anything that has been spoken about without both parties' permission. However, under certain circumstances, such as a child being at risk, or the financial details suggesting a proceeds of crime issue, the mediation will be halted as the mediator is legally obliged to pass information to the appropriate authorities.
Once the parties have proposals that both find acceptable, the mediator will prepare a summary of them together with a summary of the financial information and this will be sent to them both to discuss with their respective lawyers. Having received advice, if both parties are still happy with the proposals, the lawyers will convert the summary into a legally binding document and carry out any necessary implementation of this.
Successful mediation will normally be very much cheaper than going to Court. Whilst the mediator's fees may be roughly equivalent to those of a solicitor, they are shared between the two parties and each party's legal fees from their own lawyers will be much less than if the case went to Court. Potential Court fees can also be eliminated or considerably reduced. However, successful mediation does not entirely rule out the need to go to court, for instance to petition to end a marriage or to dissolve a civil partnership.
Should the mediation process not succeed then there may still be some positive outcome in at least getting the parties to discuss the issues between them and to find some common ground, or to better understand each other's points of view. Should the parties go to Court then all mediation discussions (but not factual financial details) remain confidential and may not be referred to in Court.
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