What is Family Mediation and is it right for me?
This week is Family Mediation Week and whilst family mediation has been around for a long time now, in my work as an Accredited Family Mediator I find that there is still a lot of uncertainty about what Mediation is. If people don't know about it or even what it really is, informed decisions about using the process can't be made. Even many family solicitors don't necessarily understand what family mediation is and can make decisions about suitability for clients perhaps without considering all of the relevant information.
There is a lot of information about the mediation process that is readily available although some may not know where to start looking. Resolution, First for Family Law is a good place to look and can help in pointing people to Family Solicitors that subscribe to the Code of Practice and support a conciliatory and co- operative approach, as well as to qualified Mediators. The Family Mediation Council is one of the main professional bodies that people may have heard of and they have a wealth of information and a large register of practising Family Mediators that can help.
So, what are the main features of Family Mediation that may help people in getting an amicable solution to issues around separation and divorce?
Well, it isn't therapy, and a lot of people worry that this is what it's about or that it's about searching to apportion blame and it isn't. Mediation is forward looking. Acknowledgement may be made of what has happened and the impact that has had on those involved, although blame is usually negative and unhelpful, and the mediator is not there to pass judgement.
It's not about reconciliation. If people aren't certain about whether the relationship is at an end, mediation can acknowledge that and help people explore solutions 'if' they decide the relationship is at an end. It can help people consider what the outcome of a separation may look like. Indeed, in a mediation that I undertook recently, the couple were separated and halfway through the sessions when the prospect of reconciliation came up. As there was uncertainty about this as a way forward, we continued to work together to consider outcomes and the parties left with options whichever way they decided to go forward.
It's not for people who want to hide their assets. Many people think that mediation is a 'soft' option and in some ways, it is as it attempts to remove obstacles to constructive communication. However, the expression 'following the shadow of the law' is quite an accurate one, particularly when it comes to family finances. Mediation isn't about ignoring the factual basis of the financial landscape. The fundamental principles of financial disclosure are adhered to although the parties do have ultimate control over what they feel they need and want. Often, financial disclosure is quicker and cheaper when dealt with via mediation. Some people mistakenly believe they need to deal with financial disclosure with their lawyers first and then come to mediation although that is not necessary at all.
It's not exclusive to Family Lawyers and other experts. During a mediation the couple normally work with one neutral mediator and there is continuing encouragement to get independent legal advice to help with issues that are in discussion. In addition, it is often necessary to consider outside expert help
particularly in family finances where it may be necessary to get a valuation report or pensions expert's report. Mediators can help identify the need for such things, assist with identifying experts and how to instruct them if lawyers are not on hand to help.
In my experience, perhaps one of its greatest strengths is that Mediation is flexible, and it helps to create a level playing field. Some people feel vulnerable because they think they will be alone in the process. The mediator works with both parties and encourages a 'team' work approach to resolution. Where there is a perceived weakness, the mediator helps to balance that out.
Often, people ask me whether it works. Yes, it certainly does although the mediator is not the only component that will determine that success. Mediation is a matter of choice, as are most things in life. If people choose to commit to the process and approach the situation with honesty, an attitude that is non- combative, cooperative, and open to compromise, it is most likely to work for them. It does take work on the part of all those involved in the process and isn't about the mediator finding the solution or fixing the problem.
As with all options in finding a solution to issues that arise in family separation, transition and/or divorce, mediation is a very viable option, and it is worth taking a little time to explore available information from various sources before forming a view on suitability. There is no need to be afraid to contact a mediator and ask for input. Most will be more than happy to help with further information without any obligation towards the process taking place.
If you want further information do feel free to get in touch or have a look at the Family pages of our website www.bandhattonbutton.com