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Mediation: The basics


Q. My husband and I are getting a divorce. We have three children together, all under 10. He is now suggesting that we go through mediation to settle custody of our children. We also need to work out what is going to happen to our family home, and to my husband’s large pension as although he has said that I have no entitlement to it, this does not seem fair when I gave up my career to look after our children while my husband worked. I have no idea what mediation is, what to expect or what it can cover. How much will it cost and will it all be settled in one meeting? What happens if we don’t reach an agreement during the mediation?

Mediation is where you and your partner meet with a professionally trained mediator to identify, discuss and try and resolve any issues between you. The mediator is impartial, neutral and independent of any legal advice either of you may also be receiving. The process is voluntary and any discussions you have between you and the mediator are confidential. Independent mediators will have their own pricing and you will need to contact them directly to ascertain their charges. If you do not have a recommendation, the Family Mediation Council can help you find a suitable mediator in your area. Usual costs can be in the region of £300 – £500 plus VAT per mediation or per hour depending on the mediator. This cost is split between the parties unless one party agrees to shoulder the fee.

In my experience, it is unlikely that you will be able to resolve the issues between you in one session, particularly if you are deciding where your children should live, the arrangements for contact as well as considering financial matters. It is more common to deal with children and financial matters separately, and to have 4-5 sessions to address and resolve the issues between you. The first few sessions are often the most difficult, but your mediator should encourage you to continue as it becomes easier once the sensitive and difficult issues are out in the open, and each of you can start understanding and appreciating the others point of view. It can take time to find a third way to resolve issues, particularly where children are involved.

If a decision cannot be reached in mediation you can:

  • try to reach an agreement privately between you;
  • instruct a lawyer to correspond with your husband or his lawyer to try and reach a resolution;
  • instruct a lawyer and choose an arbitrator between you. The arbitrator will be given the full details of your case and will then make the decision for you. Arbitrators are usually also Judges, Queens Counsel, barristers or senior solicitors. You can choose somebody with the right expertise to suit your case. Unlike a mediator who manages your discussions to help you reach an agreement between you, an arbitrator decides the matter for you; or
  • instruct a lawyer and issue court proceedings to try and mediate your matter through the courts failing which a judge will decide your matter and make a final order. People often assume court proceedings have to be aggressive when in fact, the court will try and encourage you to work together to find a resolution with the aid of a judge. Only if this fails will a court list a final hearing and decide your matter for you.

If you would like to know more about mediation and whether it might be right for you, why not contact Katie Spooner who is a mediator and the head of our family team.

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