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Mediation – the Holy Grail of family law dispute resolution?

Whilst it may sound too good to be true, mediation really can help you achieve an amicable solution; the holy grail of family law dispute resolution. The same cannot be said for the court process.

Mediation works, whether used to agree child contact arrangements or a financial settlement on divorce. Mediation provides both parties with a way to discuss their issues and resolve them collaboratively

This is, of course, easier said than done. Mediation requires both parties to discuss the dispute openly and take on board the concerns that the other person has. The mediator will not give you the answer; instead the mediator will help you to reach it between yourselves. Whilst these are decisions that can be made by a judge and imposed upon you, it is more empowering for you to take control of the outcome and work with your former partner to find a solution that is tailored to your family.

Whilst mediation isn’t a suitable forum for all family law disputes, it often is and can be a quicker and more cost effective way to reach an agreement. As a solicitor, I am not usually part of the mediation process itself (unless solicitor-led mediation is agreed) but I often advise in the background when mediation is ongoing. It is certainly possible to have a solicitor and mediate at the same time – to give you peace of mind, and the legal advice on the decisions you are making.

I recently dealt with a case where I acted for the wife. The parties agreed to mediate on the family finances and voluntary financial disclosure was exchanged in mediation. Following some initial discussions in mediation, my client came to see me to get advice about what a “fair offer” might look like in their circumstances. I listened carefully to what her goals were and then suggested a few points which she may want to consider as non-negotiable and others that she might want to be more flexible about. The wife’s non-negotiable point was that she wanted to stay living in the family home whilst the children were still at primary school. In mediation itself, it transpired that there was more consensus between the parties than they had assumed about the wife staying in the family home. The husband did not want to sell the family home and disrupt the children’s schooling. He did want money out of the house so he could buy a new home for himself eventually, but he was happy to wait a few years (until the children moved to secondary school) before receiving the funds. The parties were able to agree ‘Heads of Agreement’ i.e. a bullet point list of agreements about how their family assets would be divided in mediation. The wife then instructed me to turn that agreement into a legally binding Consent Order and file the agreement at court.

From the first mediation session to a signed Consent Order took 4 mediation sessions and 8 weeks. Whilst mediation is not cheap, the costs are significantly less than litigating a dispute a court. The court process is also extremely slow. It is not unusual to wait 3-6 months for a court hearing (a recent case of mine went 8 months between hearings!) which is unhelpful when people have often experienced huge change in their life and are trying to achieve certainty about their future.

Mediation does come with a health warning. It won’t be easy. It requires listening to the other person’s point of view and making compromises. However, if this is possible, significant time, energy and money can be saved – and you can often both achieve your goals. Those who have used mediation to resolve family law disputes have also often said how it helped them to have a better, healthier dialogue with their former partner, which helped them when it came to co-parenting their children.

At Rayden Solicitors, all of our solicitors have the specialist legal knowledge to advise you whilst you are going through mediation. You can also arrange to book a mediation session with our qualified solicitor mediator, Priya Palanivel.

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