My fellow solicitors in England and Wales are marking mediation week from 17 to 21 January to raise awareness about family mediation. I am about to complete my training as a solicitor mediator with CALM Scotland. The training has left me really enthused about the mediation process. It has also impressed upon me the importance of family mediation as an option for resolving family law disputes.
What is family mediation?
Family mediation is a voluntary process in which an independent, trained mediator assists separating couples to discuss how disputed issues can be resolved. During the mediation the aim is that the parties will eventually reach mutually acceptable proposals, perhaps about their children or finances, which they will take to their respective solicitors and thereafter enter into an agreement. The mediator will help the parties focus on common ground and endeavour to find an acceptable way forward through open and constructive discussions.
The mediator is impartial. Their role is to provide a safe and supportive structure to explore options and solutions that work for the parties. A good mediator is alert to power imbalances in the parties’ relationship, and will assist both parties to participate. While the mediation is ongoing, or afterwards, the parties can take legal advice from their solicitors to understand the relevant legal principles and the implications of any options under consideration.
If successful, mediation can avoid the need for often expensive and costly litigation. Discussions which take place in mediation are generally confidential and cannot be referred to outside of the process unless both parties agree. Family mediation, however, is not suitable for every family law dispute and there are certain situations which benefit from, or may even require, the intervention of the courts. Mediators can assess that at the outset and as the process goes on.
How does mediation begin?
Once both parties have agreed to mediate and have chosen a mediator, each party will have a separate intake session with the mediator before the joint mediation takes place. This allows the issues to be identified and to screen for any issues which may make the case unsuitable for mediation. There will also be information provided about the mediation process and how it works.
What are the benefits of family mediation?
What has struck me in my recent training is that mediation is not an easy process. It can be uncomfortable to sit down with a former partner or spouse; however, like most things that require effort, it can be very worthwhile and it has many potential benefits for separated couples and families with children.
The benefits of mediation include:
- Unlike litigation where a decision will be made by a Sheriff or Judge (and it may be a decision which neither party is happy with), you have the ability to take control of the process, the discussions and the decision making;
- You can consider options which a court doesn’t have the power to order. You can consider options which are tailor-made to suit your family situation (which you know better than any decision maker) and may even result in a ‘win win’ outcome for all involved;
- It is a quicker, cost effective and less stressful route to reaching an agreement than litigation;
- It is an amicable and collaborative approach to disputes which may encourage and preserve good communication between separated couples in a way that litigation is unlikely to.
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