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Relationship breakdown – can mediation help?

We know that relationship breakdown is never easy, and you may be going through a very difficult time. It can be hard to speak with your ex-partner, let alone reach agreements about the way forward. There are a range of options available to assist parties in reaching an agreement, one of which is mediation.

In this article, Kelly Parks, Head of Family Law, explains what mediation is and looks at how mediation can help.


What is mediation?

Mediation is a process which aims to help people sort out issues that arise as a result of the breakdown of their relationship.  To try to avoid potentially long and expensive court proceedings, mediation is a legal requirement for couples wanting to issue court proceedings for finances or relating to child arrangements. It is necessary to demonstrate that you have attended a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting before turning to the Family Courts to resolve disputes concerning financial or children matters arising out of the divorce or separation.

The first meeting with the mediator is known as a MIAM (Mediation Information Assessment Meeting).  A mediator will meet with each party individually to confirm whether mediation is suitable to the dispute, you, your (ex)partner, and all the circumstances, and whether both parties agree to proceed with mediation. The mediator may also discuss other options available to you to resolve the dispute during the MIAM and signpost to other organisations who may be able to assist you where appropriate.

The Mediator is an impartial third party, professionally trained to help you work out arrangements for children and finances following separation. They will remain neutral and will not take sides. They listen to what you both have to say and they help you put together an agreement. The mediator will not provide either party with legal advice but may provide information regarding the law and legal process to assist the parties to reach an agreement.  If agreement can be reached at mediation then this will avoid arguing the issues in Court and will save legal costs.

The Family Mediation Council explain that for couples with children “Family mediation provides you with a safe and supported structure to sort out the best arrangements for your children, taking into account what is important for them.. Mediation can also be helpful when arrangements you’ve made before need to change, particularly as your children grow up.

 It also provides you with the space and time necessary to think about what is most important for your children, and for the whole family”.

Whether you are a parent or not, mediation can help you reach agreement about how to divide what there is, where you will live, and how your future finances will work.

Mediation helps you stay in control. No-one will make you do anything against your wishes.”

The mediation process will be explained to you so that you can then make a decision as to whether you wish to proceed with mediation. There are occasions when a mediator will consider that mediation is not suitable for your case. You will be informed of this. If mediation is not suitable, or if it is unsuccessful, the mediator will provide a certificate to both parties confirming that they have met the MIAM requirement and are free to make a Court application, should they wish to do so.


Who does not need to attend mediation?

There are some exceptions, and you will generally not need to attend a MIAM if any of the following apply:

  • There is relevant evidence of domestic abuse or violence.
  • You or your former partner are in prison, or there are police bail conditions preventing contact between you and your former partner
  • The Court application must be made urgently for example, because there is an immediate risk to the life, liberty or physical safety of you or your family, or if the Court application is required urgently to prevent disposal of a marital asset
  • You have already attended a MIAM in the last 4 months
  • You have a disability preventing you from attending a MIAM
  • You have contacted at least 3 mediators within a 15 mile radius and none can offer a MIAM appointment within 15 working days
  • You or your former partner are not habitually resident in England and Wales

If you are unsure whether you need to attend a MIAM or not, please make an appointment to speak with one of our Family Law Specialists who can advise as to whether any of the MIAM exemptions apply in your case.


What is the mediation process?

  1. If you have both attended MIAM appointments individually, and the mediator decides that mediation is appropriate for your case, then further joint mediation appointments will be fixed.
  2. At these appointments the mediator will make a much more detailed assessment of your case. The mediator will help both of you to work out what issues need to be dealt with, and will ensure that both parties have the opportunity to speak and be heard.  The mediator may ask for documentary information from the parties and may direct parties to seek independent legal advice depending on what issues arise during the joint sessions.
  3. The mediator will take the views of both you and your (ex)partner and help you to try to put together an agreement.
  4. If an agreement is drawn up at mediation, this is not automatically legally binding. You should seek advice from a Family Law Specialist to determine whether the agreement can be drafted into a Court Order to make the agreement legally binding.
  5. If you have changed your mind regarding the agreement reached at mediation, or there has been a change in circumstances since the agreement was reached, you should seek legal advice from a Family Law Specialist who can advise as to the options available to you.


What does Mediation cost?

The Cost of Mediation will be explained to you by the mediator.  You may wish to make enquiries with more than one mediation organisation to compare their fees, timescales and terms of service.

The mediator will assess if you may be eligible for funding from the Legal Aid Agency if you receive certain benefits or are on a low income. Funding for mediation can still be available from the Legal Aid Agency even though it may not be available for solicitors’ legal advice and fees, as the eligibility requirements are different.  If you are unsure whether you may qualify for funding you should discuss this with the mediator.


What are the benefits of mediation?

According to the Family Mediation Council the benefits of mediation include:

  • Is less stressful and far quicker than going to court
  • It is cheaper than lengthy court proceedings
  • Helps you make arrangements over parenting, property and money
  • Allows you to keep more control of your family’s future, and helps you put your child’s interests first
  • Helps you all move on quickly to the next stage of your lives
  • Is a process which works, with agreement reached in over 70% of cases.


Can I speak to a solicitor before mediation takes place?

Yes, mediation is not a substitute for seeking legal advice.  You are entitled to seek your own independent legal advice either before, during or after the mediation process has concluded.  It is important that you are always given the opportunity to seek your own independent legal advice between each mediation session and before making any final decisions. 

If you are unsure how to start to resolve any issues arising out of your divorce or separation, then please make an appointment with one of our Family Law Specialists who will be able to assist.

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Kelly Parks
  • Director
  • Solicitor
  • Head of Family Law

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