What is family mediation?
Using this process to resolve disputes when you’ve separated from your partner can you more control, particularly if you’re parents.
It can limit stress in an already difficult situation, improve communication and could even save you money compared with, for example, a lengthy court action.
Here, I’ll take a look at mediation, the process, and answer some of the common questions clients ask.
What is family mediation?
Many people hear the term but aren’t sure what’s involved and whether it’s right for them.
There is a common misconception that it’s a way for a couple to reconcile, but this isn’t the case.
Instead, it’s a process that a couple who have decided to separate can enter into open, direct communication to address particular matters of concern. It allows families to negotiate about future arrangements, including finances and what happens with any children, with the help of a third party neutral: a trained mediator.
Each case can have a single mediator or there can be co-mediators.
These experts can’t tell the couple what to do, or what decisions they should reach. Instead, mediators use specialised skills to guide the parties to reach their own agreements amicably.
This improved communication is invaluable if, for example, the separated couple will be co-parenting.
What are the advantages of family mediation?
Retaining control is a major benefit.
Often people involved in a family dispute feel they lose control of decision-making if they instruct lawyers or the dispute ends up in court.
Family mediation allows the parties to make these personal decisions about their family through direct communication. The process can also progress at a pace that suits.
Are there any disadvantages?
It’s not an easy option.
During the process, it is often necessary to have difficult conversations in order to properly address the issues involved. Parties who agree to mediate need to stay open minded and flexible if they want to reach mutually agreeable solutions.
It’s also not a suitable option if there is a power imbalance between the parties. For example, if you or your partner are not minded to deviate from your stance, then mediation is not the best process for you.
Also, if either of you feels intimated by the other and too frightened to ask them to re-consider their position, then again, mediation is unlikely to be successful.
The very foundation of mediation is about moving away from the stance of opposing positions and with the assistance of the mediator, approaching the issues needing resolved from the alternative mindset of a couple with shared interests to find a mutually agreeable approach.
Do I still need a family lawyer if I decide to use the mediation process?
In Scotland, many trained mediators are also practising family lawyers.
As such, they can give guidance on the legal position but can’t give legal advice because they have to stay neutral.
Those involved can still instruct lawyers to provide them with advice while the mediation process progresses.
If an agreement is reached, the mediator will provide a summary of its terms and the separating couple can then get independent legal advice and have a formal minute of agreement prepared.
How much does it cost?
The mediator, or co-mediators, set an hourly rate for the time spent on each mediation session. Of course that then means the more sessions there are, the more you’ll pay. For example, it wouldn’t be unusual for pay £300 an hour for two co-mediators, which can be around the same as one lawyer’s hourly rate. And that cost of two people’s expertise is usually split between the couple taking part.
The mediators will also usually charge for preparing the summary at the end of the process.
Plus, because those involved decide the amount of sessions they need, it’s easier to keep an eye on the costs. In contrast, the cost of a court action is far less easy to determine.
How can I take part in mediation?
The mediation process is voluntary so both parties must agree to use this form of dispute resolution.
You and your ex-partner will need to instruct qualified family law mediators. There are many practising throughout Scotland who, like me, are accredited by the Law Society of Scotland.
Many are also members of the CALM mediation group in Scotland.
And if, for whatever reason, you can’t find a mediator close by, mediations can take place over by video link.
Although COVID-19 restrictions are relaxing, the family courts are still operating very few face-to-face hearings and many have a backlog they’re working through.
Instead of entering a lengthy expensive court action, you may wish to consider family mediation as an alternative to resolve important family issues. The mediation process can help you and your ex-partner make the decisions rather than handing over authority to the court to make life changing decisions for you and your family.