According to the latest UK government figures, there was a 14% rise in the number of couples choosing mediation to assist with their divorce between October and December 2020, when compared with 2019.
This demonstrates the vital role that mediation has played in helping separating couples to reach agreements, despite the restrictions brought about by the global pandemic.
Mediation helps couples to make decisions and reach resolutions, but how does it work and what happens next? And how has it adapted to work in the virtual environment?
What is mediation?
Mediators are independent and professionally trained to assist separating or divorcing couples communicate effectively and make decisions regarding their family’s future. Mediation can empower people to make decisions about their private life with the benefit of an expert who is trained to aid communication and assist in finding solutions.
Discussions with a mediator primarily focus on the practical implications of separation including interim and long-term financial arrangements, and care of children. Whilst decisions made in mediation are not legally binding, they can be turned into a legal binding agreement by a solicitor. In addition, resolutions reached during mediation are typically more successful in working long-term than court-imposed decisions.
How does it work?
In the first instance, a mediator meets with each party individually so they can confidentially explain their story, any concerns, what they want to resolve and what they hope to achieve. These meetings build rapport with the mediator and enable them to prepare for the joint session. Sessions can take place by video conference or in person.
As it is a voluntary process, mediation will only progress if both parties agree to it. Communication is key and the mediator will ensure that each individual is given the opportunity to set the agenda, to speak and be listened to.
After each session, the mediator will provide a summary to enable those involved to reflect on the discussions and to assist the solicitor or financial advisor in providing the right advice.
What will you discuss?
Mediation is confidential, save for the financial disclosure which is shared. While mediators must work within the legal framework there is an opportunity to be open and creative with ideas to resolve issues which are in dispute. It is hoped that mediation will enable respectful and dignified relationships between separating couples, which is particularly crucial if they are parents.
In mediation you can discuss a wide range of issues including:
- Arrangements for care of your children
- Interim financial arrangements while you are working out the long-term options
- How you will communicate with one another and work together as parents
- Division of the contents of the home, which can be more costly to do through lawyers than mediation
- Arrangements for care of a pet
- The introduction of a new partner to the children
- Long term financial decisions regarding the family home, pensions, debts and maintenance
- Specific issues such as moving a child to a new school, proposed medical treatment or religious upbringing.
What happens next?
The mediator can help by referring additional resources and professionals such as counsellors, independent financial advisors, divorce coaches and mortgage brokers.
Once an agreement is reached the mediator will prepare a document called a Memorandum of Understanding and it is this document that lawyers use as the basis for the legal documents that will be prepared.
Even if mediation does not result in a full agreement, it can still assist in moving towards a resolution, for example by obtaining the financial disclosure, or by identifying and narrowing issues.
If mediation does not result in a full agreement a lawyer can advise on further options including negotiations through solicitors, roundtable meetings, collaborative law, arbitration or Court.
Mediation in a pandemic
Although mediation typically involved face-to-face meetings prior to the pandemic, the past year has allowed mediators to enhance their online sessions whilst continuing to provide assistance with equal effectiveness.
When in-person meetings are not an option, mediation takes place by video conference where screen sharing can aide discussions by the use of excel spreadsheets for finances, calendars for children and online whiteboard for sharing ideas.
Get in touch
If you would like advice on mediation, please contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our lawyers.