The beginning of 2021 has brought with it a testing and unforeseen set of circumstances, affecting all families in one way or another. Navigating these waters are problematic at the best of times, but for those whose relationships may be in crisis the challenge of lockdown can be overwhelming. Added to this, the Court’s ability to process any divorce and financial claims have been severely restricted by Covid, leading to significant delays when many need to have certainty and a speedy resolution.

The alternative to Court is mediation, a useful tool for those who are willing to communicate with the benefit of a third party mediator. Solutions reached through mediation can suit both parties, reduce cost, and alleviate stress which ultimately benefits long term family relationships and cohesion. Avoiding court battles within the mediation process can result in a quicker resolution and whilst the outcome may be different, mediated solutions frequently result in happier clients.

Family Mediation Week is a reminder to all family lawyers that this form of dispute resolution must be considered by all separating couples, and to ensure that more people are informed about its benefits.

Here are some commonly held misconceptions about mediation:

“Will the mediator make me sign an agreement if I don’t want to”

The mediator guides you on a process that will involve both parties equally. There will be no obligation on you to reach an agreement or sign any documents. But it can help reach a solution without court intervention or solicitor’s letters, which ultimately can only be in both your interests.

“Can I still use a solicitor?”

If you have a solicitor in the background you can still use him or her to guide you in the process, behind the scenes. This can be really helpful as you will have someone to ask about the meaning of certain aspects of the process.

“Will the mediator send the agreement to court?”

If you both reach an agreement in mediation, the next step is for this to be encompassed in a court order, and at that stage, both parties will need separate legal advice on a Consent order, which will be drafted by a solicitor.

“What if I change my mind after mediation?”

An agreement reached in mediation is not legally binding. You can change your mind in between the mediation process and issuing proceedings at Court. Of course, it is hoped that any successful mediation will result in a final court order.

“I do not want to discuss this with my partner – can we have separate mediators?”

There is an option to ask your mediator if he or she can conduct “shuttle mediation” whereby the two parties in dispute are in separate rooms and the mediator “shuttles” between them. For shuttle mediation, you can bring along a friend or family member to support you. But the usual arrangement is for the mediator to discuss matters with both parties directly in one room.