When it comes to family matters that need sorting out, things can sometimes get a bit tangled. Maybe you're going through a separation, divorce, or facing issues about arrangements for your children or money that you can't agree on. That's where family mediation steps in.
If you've been wondering about family mediation and what it means for you, this guide is here to make things clear and simple by breaking down everything you need to know about mediation in the family court process.
We'll explore what it is, why it matters, and how it can make things easier for you and your loved ones in some cases. By the time we're done, you'll have a solid grasp of what family mediation is all about and how it could be suitable for solving your family dispute.
What Is Family Mediation?
Family mediation is a process where a professionally trained, neutral mediator helps two parties work out child arrangements and/or finances, often when they’re splitting up or if current arrangements need to change.
Mediation can help you agree on:
Arrangements for children, such as where they are going to live, who will see them, and when
Child maintenance and support payments
Dealing with debts
Instead of going to court and having a judge decide everything for you, family mediation is about you and the other party talking things out and making important decisions together. No wigs, no gavels, just people sitting down and figuring things out.
How Does Family Mediation Work?
Family mediation typically involves both you and the other party going to meetings either in person or virtually. Each of these meetings are headed up by a trained mediator whose job is to create a safe space for open and productive conversations.
In family mediation, your mediator is like a professional problem solver. They're not on anyone's "team," nor is their goal to get you and your ex back together. Rather, a mediator is trained to help you work out what problem needs to be solved, explore the options available to you, give both parties a chance to speak and be heard, connect you with independent advice related to the issues at hand and help you make a joint decision that works for both parties and anyone else who might be impacted by it, such as children.
If you do reach an agreement in mediation, there is no need to take your issue to family court and leave it in the hands of a judge to make a decision. Instead, your mediator will make a “memorandum of understanding” that outlines the agreement formally.
Why Choose Family Mediation?
In family law proceedings, both parties are encouraged to reach an agreement outside of court through alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation. There are a number of reasons why you might choose family mediation as a way to make suitable arrangements regarding children or finances, here are a few:
It's Friendlier on Your Wallet
Family mediation is usually cheaper than going to court. While there are costs involved in mediation, they’re usually not as expensive as making an application for a court order, going to court and other associated costs.
Time is Money
Court cases can drag on for ages, especially if things get intense. Family mediation, on the other hand, tends to speed things up. You'll spend less time waiting around and more time getting on with your life. Who wants to spend months or years arguing when you could be out there making memories?
Family matters are tricky enough without adding the stress of court formalities. The aim of family mediation is to keep things civil between you and the other party. In mediation sessions, the whole point is that you're not enemies; you're just trying to sort things out. In some cases it can actually help build bridges instead of burning them.
You Call the Shots
Unlike court where a judge decides, family mediation lets you have your say and make long-term solutions in your family's best interests. At the end of the process, you're the boss of the decisions, whether it's about your kids' future or your finances.
Agreements made through mediation can be reviewed and changed if the situation changes. As your children grow older or your circumstances change you might find an agreement needs to change and using family mediation can provide you with the flexibility to do this without making an application to the family court.
Is Family Mediation Right For Every Case?
Just like you wouldn't use a hammer on a leaky sink, mediation isn’t right for every family issue. There are certain situations where family mediation works well but there are also certain factors that rule mediation out.
If you’re looking at mediation as an option, the first step is to attend a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) either with your ex-partner or separately if you prefer. In this meeting a mediator will listen to your situation and tell you if mediation is a good fit for you. After the MIAM, if you both agree to try mediation, you’ll attend mediation sessions.
Every situation is different, which is why the MIAM is always the first step in the process, but generally family mediation can be effective for making decisions about:
If you're going through a divorce, mediation can be a fantastic option. It helps you sort out everything from how your assets will be split to who gets custody of the cat.
When it comes to deciding where the kids will live and how they'll split their time, mediation can be a lifesaver. It's all about finding a plan that's best for the kids and works for both parents. Plus, it keeps the drama to a minimum, which is always a win.
Money talk can get awkward, especially when it's about splitting finances after a separation. Mediation can help you figure this out from child maintenance payments to pensions and beyond.
Property & Assets
If you've got shared property or assets, mediation can help you figure out who gets what in a way that everyone agrees.
When you're dealing with kids and parenting, emotions can run high. Mediation lets you work together to come up with a plan that's best for the little ones.
When Mediation Isn’t Suitable
Mediation might not be suitable if:
There's any history of violence or abuse. Safety is the priority, and you should talk to someone who can help keep you and your loved ones safe.
Your situation involves really complex legal stuff, like international law or complicated business and financial arrangements, like bankruptcy.
You don’t know where your ex is and can’t contact them
A mediator decides it’s not suitable at a MIAM
In the above situations, an FMC Registered Mediator can make this decision and sign an appropriate court form that means you can take your case straight to court.
How do you find a family mediator?
To find a family mediator, start by doing your research. The fastest way to find an FMC Registered Mediator is to search the database on the Family Mediation Council website. You can search the register using your postcode to find a mediator near you and look at their profile to see the kind of mediation services they provide and contact details.
If you require a form from a mediator for the court, you’ll need to use an FMC registered mediator. FMC registered mediators have been trained to professional standards and are supported by a supervisor.
You do not have to choose an FMC registered mediator, however it’s worth understanding that anyone can call themselves a family mediator, even if they have had no training. So, it’s wise to do your research and understand who you will be working with and what their credentials look like.
Your mediator will be your guide through this process, so make sure you feel comfortable with them. Don't be afraid to ask questions like how long they have been mediating, what their approach looks like and how they handle tricky situations. And, if something doesn't feel right, keep looking. You want a mediator who makes you feel at ease and confident.
How Much Does Mediation Cost?
Mediation costs can vary depending on the type of mediation, whether it is online, the mediator you choose and other factors, like how many sessions you have.
If you are eligible for legal aid, family mediation is free.
On average, FMC Registered Mediators charge around £140 per person per hour for mediation sessions and drafting documentation on average. But bear in mind this is variable.
When you’re researching mediators, be sure to ask about costs as part of the process of selecting a mediator. If you go to a MIAM, your mediator will also be able to give you an estimate of costs based on how many sessions they think you will need and any other associated costs, like drafting documents.
Navigating Family Mediation Step by Step
If you and the other party decide that mediation is right, your first session will be scheduled. Then, your journey begins.
Before You Go To Mediation
Ahead of your first mediation session, take some time to consider what you want to get out of the process. Think about what is important to you and what your goals are. It’s important to do some preparation ahead of family mediation and perhaps prepare some notes to bring with you, as it will help you focus on what matters.
It’s also a good idea to start collecting copies of bank statements and other financial documents if you are going to be discussing money. You might be required to fill in a financial disclosure form with information about your income, living costs, savings, debts and property, so having all the right documentation at hand will help speed this process up.
Finally, you might find it helpful to get some advice from a family lawyer or solicitor ahead of mediation. They can help you prepare all the information you need ahead of time, as well as offer help and someone to talk to as the mediation process progresses.
Usually, you and the other party will attend family mediation together so you can discuss your differences. Your mediator is the captain of the ship. Their job is to not take sides or give legal advice, but listen to you both and suggest practical solutions to help you reach an agreement.
What happens in mediation stays in mediation, so you can be confident that you are in a safe space where you are free to raise concerns in a calm, productive manner.
In some cases, mediation can happen without both parties being in the same room or talking face to face. This is called Shuttle Mediation. However, there are some disadvantages and limitations to doing family mediation this way, so it’s not always as effective.
If you reach an agreement through family mediation, your mediation will turn your decisions into a proper plan that everyone understands and agrees on. This is called a ‘memorandum of understanding’ and each party will receive a copy.
This document is not legally binding. However, following mediation you can take your memorandum of understanding to a solicitor and ask them to turn it into a consent order. If you do this and the other party doesn’t stick to the agreement, you can take them to court with the consent order.
Following the conclusion of your mediation, you’ll work together to follow the agreement as stated in the memorandum of understanding or consent order.
What if we don’t reach an agreement through mediation?
Sometimes, an agreement can’t be reached through mediation. This can be frustrating or upsetting, but it’s important to know all of your options when this happens - because there are lots available to you.
Partial agreements are common. If you can't agree on certain aspects, you can still resolve the matters where you do agree and focus on finding solutions for the rest later.
To fully understand your options if mediation doesn’t work out, it is wise to seek help from a solicitor if you haven’t already. At this point in the process a legal professional well versed in family law can help you take the next steps. This might be trying to reach an agreement without going to court, making a parenting plan, or applying for a court order.
They might also suggest further alternative dispute resolution formats such as collaborative law sessions or family arbitration.
Mediation & Solicitors: Why Add A Lawyer To The Mix?
Imagine you're exploring a new city. You're doing great on your own, but having a local friend can make the area easier to get around and uncover hidden gems. A family law solicitor is like that friend – they know the ins and outs of how things work and can guide you through the process.
Before, during and after family mediation a solicitor can help you understand the process and legal implications of any agreements made in mediation. They can also help you to fill out documentation and review any agreements before they’re finalised. At the end of family law mediation, depending on the outcome, your solicitor can advise you on next steps or turn your agreement into a consent order which can be enforced in the future.
Mediation and support from a legal professional are a dynamic duo. Mediation helps you find common ground and make decisions collaboratively, while a solicitor makes sure those decisions align with the law and your best interests.
With Lawhive you can find a family law solicitor in 5 minutes. To get started, simply tell us about your case and we will give you a fixed fee quote and match you with the very best licensed family solicitors for your situation.
Family Mediation FAQs
If you still have questions about family mediation, below we have answered some common FAQs to help.
Is Mediation Legally Binding?
Yes, the agreements reached in mediation can be legally binding. Once everyone agrees and the terms are formalised by a solicitor into a consent order, they can be enforced by a court.
Will the Mediator Decide for Us?
A mediator won't make decisions for you. They're neutral and their job is to facilitate discussions and find common ground. The decisions are ultimately up to you and the others involved.
Can a Solicitor Be Present?
The answer to this is a resounding yes. It is absolutely fine for a solicitor or legal representative to be present in family mediation. In fact, it's highly recommended as they can give you important advice throughout the process and advocate for you should you need it.
How Long Does Mediation Take?
How long mediation takes depends on the complexity of the issues and how well everyone works together. Some cases might be resolved in a few sessions, while others could take longer. If you attend a MIAM, your mediator should be able to give you a rough idea of how many sessions they'll think you need and approximate costs. However, it's always good to keep in mind that this might change as conversations progress.
Does Mediation Actually Work?
Pretty strong evidence exists across the board that mediation is effective when it comes to resolving disputes.
Research shows that more than 70% of those using mediation services will resolve their issues outside of a courtroom. And, in 2019, only 3% of the two million civil proceedings issued went to trial.
That being said, family mediation is only effective if both parties are engaged with the process and committed to finding a resolution outside of the courtroom.