From 22 April 2014 anyone seeking to issue court proceedings for private children or financial remedy must first attend a mediation information and assessment meeting with an accredited family mediator.
Mediation is a method of getting couples together to discuss the issues commonly surrounding divorce or separation. It is impartial and is solely aimed at helping the parties involved to come to mutually satisfactory conclusions so they can plan for the future. Though it is not suitable for everybody, those who actively wish to minimise conflict stand to gain more out of the experience as do those who want a faster, more cost effective alternative to court proceedings.
Some features of mediation:
- A process to get the two parties discussing matters between them.
- A safe place in which to do this.
- An opportunity for both sides to be aware of other people affected by the divorce/separation – notably any children of the marriage.
- A way of reaching agreements suitable to both sides.
- A confidential approach.
- Not only suitable for married couples but can also be used by those in a civil partnership as well as those who are not married but are co-habiting instead.
Though divorcing couples now have to at least consider the benefits of mediation, there is no compulsion on people to actually attend. It is a voluntary process and may not be suitable for some couples, especially those where domestic abuse or violence is an issue.
The mediators are trained and will be impartial. They will not be able to give a personal opinion and also are not there to offer advice, though some forms of information or guidance can be given on occasion.
Unless there are other issues in the case which may involve criminal activity such as domestic violence, fraud or if child protection matters are raised, the meetings will be completely confidential. Any agreement between the parties will be set down in writing into a confidential summary. However confidentiality does not extend to financial information and disclosure of these matters must be made.
- Decision making
The couple themselves are the decision makers. The mediator will not offer solutions, order one of the parties to do one thing or another or make any decision on their behalf. They are merely there to facilitate discussions between the people who can make decisions, namely the couple themselves.
We have already highlighted some of what mediation does, what it offers to the couple involved. However, there are also some things it does not do.
- It is not a route towards reconciliation. Though mediation works best if there are two people involved who want proceeding to remain amicable and who want to work out solutions acceptable to both sides, mediation is not marriage guidance, it is for two people who have already decided to separate or divorce. Reconciliation might happily occur but that is not mediation’s aim.
- Mediation is also not a type of counselling or a substitute for legal advice, though they can point the parties towards these matters if they wish.
- The couple should be aware to try and not use it as a sounding board, an opportunity to use the time available to put forward their case and their grievance to the exclusion of everything else. The mediator will try and ensure that both sides have the chance to put forward their views to try and reach a satisfactory conclusion.