As we end another Mediation Awareness Week, I thought it would be a good opportunity to ask what exactly is mediation? What does it involve, and what are the benefits of mediation?
Court proceedings during a separation or divorce can be costly, and this is where mediation can help. Mediation involves a professionally trained, independent mediator working with you and your ex-partner to try and resolve issues that arise following your separation. This might be the contact arrangements for your children or the family finances. Mediation can help people who are married – and unmarried. It is often quicker than court proceedings and are often less costly.
I often get asked what happens in mediation. The first step of the process is attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (known as a MIAM). This is a preliminary meeting where the mediator will consider whether your case is actually suitable for mediation. The mediator will talk to you about the process, for example how they plan to meet with you and your former partner. You will be given information about the cost and an approximate timescale.
Attending a MIAM is now required in most cases before you can apply to court, and the court even has the power to halt any court proceedings if it feels your dispute could be resolved by mediation. There are exemptions, for example:
- In cases of domestic violence
- If there are child protection concerns
- If the application to court must be made urgently
- If you had been to a MIAM in the previous four months.
Another question I am frequently asked is whether what is discussed in mediation can be used against a client at a later day. The answer is no, mediation is completely confidential and nobody present can disclose the content of any discussions from the mediation process into any court proceedings.
However, if an agreement is reached – for example about your children – the mediators will normally reflect this in a document called a memorandum of understanding. It is not a legally binding document but as long as you both agree to stick to it, it can work as an alternative to a binding court order. In cases where there is a memorandum about your finances, this can be ‘converted’ into a court order called a ‘consent order’ and sent to the court. This could be done without either of you having to actually go to court and at a much cheaper cost.
It is difficult to be specific over how long the mediation process will take. Assuming the mediator thinks mediation is appropriate at the MIAM, timings then depend on how much progress is made by both of you.
The same principle applies to the cost of the mediation process itself, although most mediators offer a fixed fee for the MIAM. It is also worth bearing in mind that if at least one of you is eligible for legal aid, the total cost of the MIAM attendance will be covered. On top of that, if at least one of you is eligible for legal aid, the Legal Aid Agency will also fund one actual mediation session for both of you. The Legal Aid Agency will also fund all the mediation sessions for someone who is eligible for legal aid.
If you would like to know more, or mediation hasn’t worked for you and you want to know what to do next, or you would like someone to look over an agreement you reached in mediation, please call me, Imran Khodabocus, on 01392 284 851. Your initial appointment is free, and if you qualify financially, you can still get legal aid for issues involving domestic violence.