What is family mediation, and what are its benefits?

It goes without saying that family law disputes should be resolved by agreement, rather than through the courts. Contested court proceedings are time consuming, expensive, and stressful, and should be avoided if at all possible.

But often the parties are unable to reach agreement between themselves. In such a situation they should, before going to court, consider alternative methods of dispute resolution.

And the primary method of resolving family law disputes out of court is mediation.

But what exactly is mediation, and what are its benefits?

How family mediation works

Mediation is a process whereby the parties agree to refer their dispute to a trained mediator, who will help them try to resolve the dispute by agreement.

There is a fee involved in mediation, which is usually shared between the parties.

Mediation can be used to resolve any kind of family dispute, including sorting out arrangements for children and resolving finances on divorce.

The mediator will help the parties identify the issues between them, and assist them to find a workable solution. They will also ensure that both parties have a full opportunity to express themselves with neither party dominating the other.

Note that the mediator will not provide legal advice (although they may indicate to the parties whether a suggested outcome would be acceptable to the court). However, the parties are free to seek their own legal advice at any stage of the mediation process.

The exact process of mediation will vary from case to case, but will typically involve a number of face to face meetings between the parties and the mediator, either online or in person.

If the mediation results in an agreement then the mediator will prepare a written Memorandum of Understanding, setting out what has been agreed. This can then be incorporated into a court order by a solicitor, if necessary.

Mediation is currently completely voluntary. However, the government is considering implementing compulsory mediation.

It should also be noted that anyone wishing to make an application to the court will normally be required first to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (commonly referred to as a ‘MIAM’), unless an exemption applies, such as if there has been domestic abuse. At the MIAM a mediator will explain what mediation is, and assess whether the case is suitable for mediation.

Why you should consider using mediation

There are many benefits to using family mediation, including:

  1. Cheaper – If successful, mediation will almost certainly be considerably cheaper than contested court proceedings.
  2. Quicker – Mediation will normally take a matter of weeks to complete. On the other hand, contested court proceedings will usually take many months before they are finalised.
  3. Less stressful – Contested court proceedings are notoriously stressful. Many people find simply attending court stressful, and the adversarial nature of court proceedings will add to the stress. Mediation avoids these things.
  4. Get the resolution you want, rather than have it imposed upon you by the court – By its nature, mediation involves the parties resolving matters in a way that suits them, whereas court proceedings involves the court imposing a resolution with which neither party may be happy.
  5. Promotes dialogue – The process of mediation can help the parties learn to communicate with one another. This can be especially important if they have children, as they are then obviously likely to need to communicate on a regular basis.
  6. Control of the process – If the case goes to court then the court will control the process at every step of the way, whereas in mediation the parties can agree upon the process themselves.
  7. Privacy – No one wants their private family matters aired in public, but this can happen if a case goes to court, if it does not involve children. Discussions in mediation, however, are entirely private and confidential.

February 21-26th 2024 was  Family Mediation Week, which aims to bring awareness of family mediation to separating families.