Getting ready for mediation - Family Law Partners

Getting ready for mediation

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If you have found this article, it may be that you are just starting to consider if mediation is right for you or you may already have a mediation session booked and be wondering how to best prepare for this.  Whatever stage you are at, the aim of this article is to help you prepare so that you can get the greatest benefit from mediation possible.  Here are some replies to frequently asked questions about preparing for mediation.

How can mediation start?

The first step in the mediation process is for all participants to have separate mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs) with a mediator to consider if mediation is a safe and suitable process for them to start together.

You may have:

  • Been referred by your lawyer or asked by your partner/former partner’s lawyer to consider mediation
  • Been encouraged by the court (if you have started a court application) to pause the court process temporarily and see if you can try mediation as an alternative way to try and resolve matters to reduce stress levels, legal costs and delay
  • Just decided to try it and not yet discussed it with your partner/former partner
  • Been contacted by a mediator to invite you to a MIAM because your partner/former partner has asked the mediator to arrange this with you both if possible

What is mediation?

  • There are many resources available online which are provided at the end of this article. For example, the Family Mediation Council and Resolution websites have a short video with practical examples of how mediation works as well as a national directory of mediators.
  • Mediation enables you and the person you wish to mediate with to meet in a non-judgmental, neutral setting with a mediator who is professionally trained and regularly supervised. The mediator is there to support you both in an even-handed way by providing information and ensuring you both have a chance to express your views in a respectful way to each other.  This is to give you both the best chance of coming to a full understanding of each other’s perspective so that you can reach a mutually acceptable set of decisions which work for your whole family and enable you both to remain on good terms at the end of the process.

How do I find a mediator that is right for my situation?

  • The Family Mediation Council or Resolution websites are good starting points as they have a ‘find a mediator’ section and you can enter your postcode and find a list of mediators in your area and there are links to their profiles. Family Law Partners’ mediators can be found here.
  • If you think you may be eligible for government funded mediation (this is available for mediation on a means-tested basis and there is a link below to enable you to check this) you can tick the box in your mediator search to find mediators who would offer government funded mediation.
  • If you wish to discuss finances and child arrangements in mediation, you would need to find an ‘all issues’ mediator and this information should be available when you look at the above websites or at the individual profiles of any mediators
  • Some mediators are ‘accredited’. This means they have obtained this qualification after several years’ experience and they have had to submit a detailed portfolio demonstrating their experience to apply to be accredited.  Only an accredited mediator can provide you with a ‘MIAM certificate’ (i.e. if you decide that mediation is not suitable or if you start mediation and cannot resolve everything in mediation and had to apply to the Court, an accredited mediator would need to sign a certificate to show that you have considered mediation first). However, mediators who are not yet accredited often have a background as very experienced lawyers and they are likely to be working towards accreditation and will also be able to mediate fully with you both in the same way as an accredited mediator.
  • Some mediators have additional training as a ‘hybrid mediator’. This means that they can offer mediation where, if you both agree, your solicitors can join for all or part of the process for added support for you both during the sessions.  This is often more suitable where there is a high level of conflict between you or complex issues which you may prefer to have legal advice during mediation sessions.  The mediator will allocate time between each of you and you will be in separate rooms for all or part of the mediation process as agreed by you both.

How can I encourage the other person to come to mediation?

This can depend on which stage you are at:

  • Often you may both make a joint decision to try mediation and you may be able to make a joint shortlist of mediators that you have both researched and then email those, copying the emails to both of you, to find out about their fees and availability.
  • You may decide to have an initial one to one meeting with a mediator before discussing mediation with the person you wish to mediate with and then asking the mediator to contact them to invite them to their own one to one meeting (sometimes called a MIAM or mediation information and assessment meeting)
  • If you already have solicitors, your solicitor can propose mediation as a way forward for you both and help you find a mediator explaining the advantages of trying to resolve matters in a neutral and non-adversarial setting using mediation.

What can I do to best prepare for the first joint mediation meeting?

You may be mediating with someone you still live with and have good ongoing communication with about everyday issues, but you have just been unable to face sorting out longer term financial and children matters or at the other end of the spectrum; a former partner you have not spoken to for years and with whom you may have already started court proceedings and there is zero communication or very negative communication but you have both decided to try another way with mediation. Many people starting mediation are somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.

Mediation can take place in a variety of ways:

  • you are both in the same room with a mediator
  • you are in the same room with a mediator and a family consultant (please see below)
  • you are in separate rooms for all or part of the process (a family consultant and a mediator can both be involved or just a mediator) – this is known as ‘shuttle mediation’
  • you are in separate rooms for all or part of the process and one or both of your lawyers can be present for all or some of the meetings – this is known as ‘hybrid mediation’
  • any of these ways of meeting can be in person or by video link such as Zoom.

In all of the above scenarios, the following preparation tips will hopefully help you be well prepared:

  1. Being mentally prepared

Although you can start mediation without preparing any documents in advance or overthinking what you hope to work out together in mediation, it helps to think specifically about what you need to work out together and to start mediation with as positive a mindset as possible.  Mediation is future-focussed and this can be difficult when you are feeling sad and hurt and let down possibly at the end of a relationship and thoughts are dominated by what has gone wrong in the past. Being mentally as well as practically prepared to start mediation will give you the best chance to have a mediation where you are able to resolve matters together and hopefully part on good terms which is especially important where you have children.

It can be daunting to consider being in the same room as a former partner, sometimes where you have not spoken for some time or where you are still living in the same home.  The mediator will help you prepare for this and discuss practical arrangements that will be most helpful for you both.

You will have a one to one mediation information meeting (MIAM) first with the mediator  who can help you prepare and who will discuss the situation with you to ensure that mediation is a safe and suitable way for you to work and who can suggest different ways in which the mediation can be arranged to help you feel reassured and as relaxed as possible in the mediation meeting.

  1. Being practically prepared

It is also important to be practically prepared for mediation.  This includes aspects such as travel and childcare arrangements and working out how to share the costs of the process or whether you prefer to meet in person or online (e.g. by Zoom or Teams).

Here are some tips for preparing mentally and practically for mediation:

  • how will I travel to the meeting? – give yourself enough time; if you still live together and share a family car it is wise to think about travelling separately so that you have some time and space on your journey to prepare for the meeting before and to let the mediation discussions settle in your mind after the session.
  • do I need to arrange childcare or someone to pick up the children from school? Mediators will try to arrange meetings within school hours if you request this.  Sometimes meetings can run over a little and it is helpful to have a friend on standby to collect the children.  You will always be able to make a phone call to check childcare if you are worrying about this during the meeting, but it is best if you can make arrangements before the session.
  • can I get time off work?  You may just want to book annual leave to avoid awkward conversations with work colleagues about your current situation.  However, often work colleagues are supportive and allow time off to go to meetings or allow you to work flexibly.
  • will I need to arrange for a friend or relative to meet me after the meeting for a coffee?  Mediators will try to end meetings on a positive note, but it is not always possible and you may feel sad or emotional at the end of a meeting and welcome some time with a trusted friend or relative who could meet you afterwards.  The mediator will discuss with you both whether you would wish to arrive and leave at the same time if you are meeting in person, again to allow you both a little space before and after the meeting.
  • how will it feel to be in the same room as my former partner or would I prefer to at least start the mediation process with us being in separate rooms (known as ‘shuttle mediation’? The mediator is there to support you both throughout meetings and you will be able to request short breaks and usually water and hot drinks (and often biscuits or fruit!) will be provided.  You will need to discuss this with the mediator at your information meeting.
  • how long will the meeting last? Usually 1.5 to 2 hours, but it can be longer or shorter depending on both of your wishes.  If you choose hybrid mediation (i.e. with solicitors joining if you both wish) these sessions can be longer (e.g. Half a day or a full day if you wish).
  • how will I cope if I feel very emotional?  If you think that you may not be able to think straight or articulate your views in the meeting, it may be that you would benefit from some extra support before starting mediation.  You could consider having some counselling to clarify your thoughts, hopes and intentions for the mediation process and your future.  Alternatively, the mediator could arrange for a family consultant to be part of the mediation process.  A family consultant is therapeutically rather than legally trained.  They would not be there to provide therapy for either of you, but to provide support with communication and emotional issues which can arise during meetings.  You can also meet a family consultant before and between mediation meetings. Some information is provided below about family consultants.
  • will I be able to express myself fully or will I feel intimidated or overwhelmed when I am in the meeting? It is hard to know how you will react in the meeting.  Sometimes things come up that you are not expecting.  The mediator will encourage you to focus on present and future arrangements rather than dwell on past events which cannot now be changed.  The mediator is trained to pick up on any signs that one of you may be feeling overwhelmed and will offer a short break or may suggest speaking to each of you separately during the meeting if necessary.
  • how will costs be paid? For mediation and if I need legal or other professional advice alongside mediation? The mediator will discuss this with you at your information meetings.  If you decide to start joint mediation, your mediator can apply for a government mediation voucher for you which is non-means-tested and will provide £500 towards the cost of joint mediation sessions (this is only available for a joint meeting where a substantial part of your discussion is about child arrangements). You may decide to pay costs from a joint account or that if one of you has more funds to pay up front, the other will reimburse them later out of the financial settlement, you may decide to borrow from a relative or you may be eligible for government funding (there is a link to the government calculator below)
  • do I need to have a fair idea of my financial situation? When joint mediation starts, the mediator will ask you both to provide information about your financial circumstances (or if you have already provided this to your lawyers they can send this to your mediator if you prefer).  This can be time-consuming and tedious but is necessary to give you both a full picture of your finances to check that you are making realistic decisions.  This information will be shared with you both by the mediator. The mediator will provide you both with a form to complete with your information so you both provide the same information to each other.
  • pensions – as part of the financial information needed, you will need to provide valuations of your pensions if you have any. Some may be small and from a job a long time ago and it can be hard to find information at short notice so it is worth just checking your paperwork to see if you have a clear idea of any pensions you may have. The mediator will explain how to apply for valuations when you start mediation.
  • living costs – do you know how much you spend every month on food, household bills etc? Do not worry about knowing this exactly at the start as your mediator will provide you with a schedule so you can work out your average monthly spend.

Listed below are some further resources you may find helpful to look at as you plan for your mediation.  If you have any questions about preparing for mediation, please contact us.  We have a large team of experienced family mediators covering a wide geographical area https://www.familylawpartners.co.uk/how-we-work/family-mediation

If you can take some time to be mentally and practically prepared for mediation, it is likely that the process will be a positive and helpful experience for you and enable you to resolve matters in an amicable and respectful basis with one another, preserving a good parenting relationship for the future if you have children.

Resources:

Information about mediation:

https://www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk/family-mediation/

https://resolution.org.uk/looking-for-help/splitting-up/your-process-options-for-divorce-and-dissolution/family-mediation/

https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/divorce-and-separation/parenting-together/mediation/

https://naccc.org.uk/for-parents/

Information about family consultants:

https://www.sussexfamilysolutions.co.uk/ourservices/family-consultants/

https://www.familylawpartners.co.uk/meet-the-team/kim-crewe

Mediation – costs information:

https://www.gov.uk/check-legal-aid

https://www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk/mediation-vouchers/

For more information about mediation, or to arrange a confidential discussion about your personal circumstances, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sarah-Jane Ridell is a Senior Associate Solicitor, Collaborative Lawyer and Mediator in our Brighton Office.

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