Five ways mediation could help you in your divorce proceedings
During Family Mediation Week 2021, Sarah Evans, Partner in Coodes Solicitors’ Family team, outlines some of the benefits of going through mediation during a divorce.
Family Mediation Week runs from 18 to 22 January 2021. Set up by the Family Mediation Council, it aims to raise awareness of the benefits of working with a mediator to resolve issues during separation or divorce.
Mediation is something we recommend to many of our clients and it can be enormously helpful in a number of situations. A good mediator will help a separating or divorcing couple set aside their differences and focus on what needs to be resolved. In many cases, it complements our approach of resolving matters in a non-confrontational way.
A good mediator is a highly professional individual who maintains a neutral position, helping you and your former partner or spouse to come to an agreement on any issues that need to be resolved. Despite some people’s misconceptions, it is not relationship or family counselling. The aim is to guide you towards reaching an agreement on issues, such as arrangements for children and finances.
Here are some of the ways in which mediation could play a role in your divorce proceedings.
1. Helping you work out child contact arrangements
If you have children, their living and contact arrangements are likely to be the most important consideration during your separation or divorce. This is an emotive topic and many people need help to work through this.
If you are able to reach an agreement on arrangements for your children through mediation, a solicitor can then draw this up in a written agreement. While this is not a legally binding document it can be very useful in ensuring everyone is clear on what has been agreed. It can also be useful evidence if the arrangements break down and an application does subsequently need to be made to court for an order to determine the children’s living arrangements. This is known as a Child Arrangements Order.
Some people consider child inclusive mediation, which involves children joining some or all of the mediation sessions. This can be facilitated by setting up separate sessions between the mediator and children, so their views can be heard and then fed back to the parents. This approach can sometimes be positive for families with older children.
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2. Reaching an agreement on your financial settlement
Working through finances is another major element of most divorce proceedings. This may include debt as well as assets, including property. Again, these conversations can be highly emotive. Having a neutral third party to help progress the discussions in a non-confrontational way can be really helpful.
It is important to stress that you are likely to also need specialist advice from a family lawyer, particularly if you have a high value estate or if your personal circumstances and finances are complex. While a mediator may be able to help you reach a mutually-agreeable position, a lawyer will give you advice alongside this process to ensure you come out of the divorce in the best position possible.
If you reach an agreement a lawyer will then be able to turn this into an order, which will be sent to the court to be approved by a Judge. This will make your agreement legally binding.
3. Saving money
Unless you are eligible for Legal Aid, mediation will cost you. However, for many separating couples it can save money in the long term. That is because it may be less expensive than lengthy legal proceedings through the courts.
4. Speeding up the divorce process
By keeping you focused on the main issues, having sessions with a mediator should also help you reach agreement more quickly. According to research by the National Audit Office, divorcing couples who use mediation reach agreement in 110 days, on average, compared to nearly 450 days for those who do not. Of course, every case is different and many people who choose mediation also need to go through the courts.
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5. Reducing the stress during your divorce or separation
Any divorce is stressful, but mediation can often help avoid it becoming overly antagonistic. It should also empower you, ensuring your voice is heard and you can make decisions about you and your family.
We do not, however, recommend mediation to every client who comes through our doors. For anyone who is experiencing any form of domestic abuse, mediation is likely to make a divorce even more stressful. We would not advise anyone to go through the experience of being in a mediation session with an abuser. Doing so could leave them open to further manipulation and trauma. In some instances, a ‘shuttle’ mediation approach may be appropriate. This involves the mediator having separate discussions with each party.
In most cases, mediation can play a really positive role in a divorce or separation. While most divorcing couples require expert legal advice, and many also need to involve the courts, it can help you to reach agreement on some of the most difficult aspects of the split. As well as potentially saving you time and money, it can help avoid unnecessary additional conflict. This can be especially helpful if you have children and need to maintain a good relationship for their benefit.