Family Mediation helps couples who are separated or divorced – or in the process of separating or divorcing – reach agreement about the important issues that need to be addressed if couples are to achieve a fair and legal separation.
How family mediation helps
Family mediation helps couples who are separated or divorced – or in the process of separating or divorcing – reach agreement about the important issues that need to be addressed if couples are to achieve a fair and legal separation.
Couples are invited to meet together (or separately in some circumstances) with a mediator in an informal, confidential atmosphere instead of exchanging correspondence through their solicitors or appearing separately in a formal court. They are helped to
• identify the issues they want to sort out
• express their own views about them and
• explore possible options to achieve a fair settlement
• negotiate together to find common ground and reach solutions acceptable to them both
Usually there is one partner who is anxious to leave, or has left the relationship, while the other one may be feeling left behind. Although it takes time for couples to come to terms with this emotional inequality, many can be helped to arrive at sensible, workable solutions to the areas in dispute and appreciate the opportunity to reach their own decisions about such important personal matters.
In all the difficulties of these painful decisions the mediators are practical and compassionate. They are trained to help people, once intimate both as a couple and as parents move to a new relationship as a separated couple sharing parenthood. The mediator helps them to focus on the best outcomes they can devise for their children and for their own futures.
Matters dealt with include:
• the divorce / separation decision and arrangements for the children (who should have day to day care, or how to share care of the children, and what contact the children should have with the other parent)
• decisions about property and finance – how to achieve a financial settlement so you can both move forward with confidence
• financial emotional and practical support for the children
When mediation includes both children and financial matters, as is often the case, it is called “All Issues Mediation”.
Help from a NFM mediator starts with a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) which enables people to find out more about mediation and enables people to make an informed decision about whether mediation is right for them. Other issues such as safety, confidentiality and eligibility are also discussed at this preliminary meeting.
There are then a number of joint meetings with the outcome and any decisions reached being written into a Memorandum of Understanding, or an outcome statement. This is given to the couple so that everyone is clear what has been decided. When mediation also includes financial and property matters, it takes a little longer and the written outcome is more detailed.
Arrangements, particularly in relation to children, will need to be adjusted to new circumstances. So while it is important that couples make their decisions together during the mediation sessions, it is equally important to enable the ex-partners to develop ways of resolving issues themselves in the future. Mediation will help couples develop strategies for future communication. NFM mediators also offer review meetings and encourage couples to use mediation flexibly.
Mediation and Children
One of the most important features of mediation is the help it can give parents to focus on the needs of their children at the time of divorce or separation.
Mediation can help parents plan their children’s lives co-operatively so that they can see as much of both parents as possible with the least possible conflict. The process works best if parents come to mediation before disagreements become entrenched or children hurt and bewildered by seeing the conflict between their parents. But it is important to stress that mediation can still work if this doesn’t happen.
The 1989 Children Act stated that each parent continued to hold “parental responsibility” even after divorce and the law generally encourages parents to reach agreement only seeking court orders if they cannot agree.
The 1996 Family Law Act gives mediators a specific duty to help parents consider the wishes and feelings of each of their children and consider whether the children and young people should express their views directly in the mediation process.
In 2014, the government introduced a legal requirement that couples must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting before being able to apply to court.
The National Audit Office report: Legal Aid and Mediation for People Involved in Family Breakdown showed how disputes resolved through family mediation are cheaper, quicker and less acrimonious than those settled through the Courts and that mediation provides longer lasting, more durable outcomes for families.
Research shows that their parents’ divorce or separation can be a difficult time for children. However, much depends on whether the children have the security of their parents still trying to work together, even if living apart, and whether they are given the information they need about emotional and practical aspects such as moving to a new house, changing schools etc. Children and young people need to be heard and listened to without being overwhelmed by “adult” responsibilities and decision making. If these positives can be achieved then their parents’ divorce, whilst always significant, can become a survivable experience for children rather than a major trauma.
Mediation helps in a variety of ways
• mediation with the parents, directly including the children where appropriate
• information and guidance for parents at a very difficult and emotional time
• direct help for children in the form of individual or group meetings
• information literature, videos and other materials for both adults and children
• signposting to other more appropriate services if required