Each year the Family Mediation Council celebrate ‘family mediation week’ between 22nd – 26th January to raise awareness of the benefits of family mediation. We support that cause as mediation can be an excellent form of alternative dispute resolution, particularly for separating couples looking to reach an agreement in relation to the financial aspects of their separation.
What is mediation?
Mediation involves appointing a mediator (a neutral and independent third party) to help you and your spouse talk through the issues, negotiate and come to an agreement in relation to the division of your finances (it is also possible to mediate in relation to other issues, but this article focuses on divorce and finances). That agreement would then need to be formalised within a consent order. This is because an agreement reached in mediation is not binding until this step has been taken.
What are the benefits of mediation?
- Cost effective – negotiating via mediation is more cost effective than other methods of alternative dispute resolution and you can still seek advice and support from a solicitor throughout the process. Mediators are independent and neutral so it is important to seek your own separate legal advice in relation to any proposed financial settlement.
- Informal environment – mediation takes place in an informal supportive environment which can make the negotiations less stressful for everyone involved and help promote a non-confrontational approach.
- Flexibility – mediation gives you the opportunity to discuss practical and creative settlements whereas the court process is more rigid and a Judge would decide the outcome.
How we can support you through mediation
As mentioned above, it is important to take legal advice alongside the mediation process and to instruct a solicitor to draft a consent order on your behalf if/when an agreement is reached.
It is also possible to engage in solicitor-led mediation, where your solicitor would attend with you and advocate on your behalf. That could be a good option if you are less confident and feel you need the help of a solicitor to get the most out of the process at the time the mediation is taking place (as opposed to receiving advice in the background before and after mediation sessions).
When can mediation be used in the context of financial negotiations on divorce?
Mediation can be used as a tool to help separating couples agree a financial settlement at any stage, but the best time to do it is at the outset (once divorce proceedings have been issued). You will be able to submit a draft consent order (recording your agreement) to the court once the conditional order has been made (after 20 weeks) so it is a good idea to commence negotiations as soon as the application has been made. The longer you delay the negotiations the more complicated things can become.
However, mediation will not be suitable for every couple. It will be more appropriate where both parties are willing to be transparent and proactively engage with the process. It won’t be suitable for you if you would struggle to be in the same room as your spouse. There are other options available if you are in that category. Please contact our Family team to discuss your options and how we can help you.