This page explains the process of family mediation, when mediation is necessary and the expected standards of a family mediator.
What is mediation?
Mediation is the process by which families can negotiate about future arrangements for children with the help of a neutral third party. The mediator does not tell parties what to do, but can help the parties to reach their own agreements amicably, whilst trying to improve communication between them.
What are the benefits of mediation?
Mediation is recommended when parents find it hard to agree on making suitable arrangements for children after a family breakdown. There are several advantages to attending mediation, such as:
- giving you more control over what decisions are made in relation to children, rather than applying to the courts;
- providing a less stressful way of dealing with sensitive matters;
- improving communication and helping you to sort out future arrangements;
- allowing arrangements to be reviewed and changed easier, so long as they are mutually agreed by both parties; and
- providing a quicker and cheaper way of resolving disputes.
Are any agreements made through mediation legally binding?
Any agreements made during mediation are not legally binding in the sense of being enforceable in a court. Some people do decide to get a solicitor to look over the agreement, and the agreement can be used in court at a later stage in order to create a consent order.
What is a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM)?
A Mediation Information Assessment Meeting is the first meeting which will help establish whether mediation will be suitable in your circumstances, and whether it will help you to reach an agreement.
What will happen at mediation?
The mediator will try to find common ground between you. If you’re not comfortable with being in the same room as your ex-partner, the mediator can arrange ‘shuttle’ mediation. This is where the mediator speaks with you alone and then speaks to your ex-partner with your proposals separately. It might take more than one session to reach an agreement.
Upon an agreement being reached between you and your ex-partner, a “memorandum of understanding” will be created by the mediator so everyone understands what has been agreed.
Do I have to go to mediation?
From April 2014, anyone applying to the courts for assistance in resolving disputes about children or finances will be required to attend a meeting Mediation Information Assessment Meeting. This includes any applications for:
- Child Arrangements Order
- Specific Issue Order
- Prohibited Steps Order
- Parental Responsibility Order
- An order appointing a Child’s Guardian
- Removal from Jurisdiction Order
- Special Guardianship Order.
You will not need to attend mediation for the above applications if you are applying for a consent order, or if there are ongoing emergency proceedings, care proceedings or supervision proceedings for a child or there is an Emergency Protection Order, Care Order or Supervision Order in place.
You can also be exempt from having to attend a MIAM, if you fulfil one of the exceptions outlined in section 13 of the C100 application form, which can be downloaded from www.justice.gov.uk. A few of the main exceptions include:
- where there has been any form of domestic violence between you and your ex-partner and it has been reported to the police, courts, health professionals or specialised agency;
- where the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan or a section 47 enquiry;
- where the situation is a matter of urgency, i.e. a risk of harm to the child’s safety;
- where mediation has been attempted within the last four months; or
- where the person seeking to make the application does not have sufficient contact details of the other person to which the application relates.
From April 2014, it is compulsory to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting before making an application for court.
What can I expect from my mediator?
A family mediator must act impartially and avoid any conflict of interest. This means that a mediator must not mediate on a dispute where they have acquired relevant information about the parties. Furthermore, a mediator must remain neutral on the outcome of the mediation. They must not seek to enforce their preferred outcome or influence on any of the parties.
You must also expect the mediator to keep confidential all details obtained during the course of mediation. The mediator cannot even disclose information to the court, without the consent of both participants. The mediators may only disclose information where there are serious allegations of harm to a child or adult.
Mediation is a voluntary process and any session for mediation can be suspended or terminated, if it is felt that the parties are unwilling to fully take part in the process. Mediators must also encourage the participants to consider the wishes and feelings of the children.
How long can mediation take?
Mediation can continue while it meets the needs of the individual parties involved. The initial meeting lasts approximately 45 minutes. Full mediation sessions will usually last between 1 to 2 hours, depending on the complexity of the situation.
What is the cost of mediation?
If you are on a low income or in receipt of certain benefits, you might be able to get Legal Aid to help with the costs. If only one party is eligible for legal aid, Legal Aid can cover the first MIAM session for both of you.. The mediator should be able assess whether you are eligible for legal aid or you can contact Civil Legal Advice on 0345 345 4345.
For exact costs, check with your mediation provider.
What if we cannot reach an agreement through mediation?
If you cannot reach an agreement with the other participant, or mediation fails for any other reason, for example the other party will not attend or the mediator feels that mediation is unworkable, you may proceed with your dispute to the courts. You must ensure that the mediator signs and certifies your application form.
For more information about mediation please contact National Family Mediation on: 0300 4000 636