A complete guide to divorce mediation
Getting a divorce is a stressful situation for everybody involved. In addition to what is already an emotional time, divorcing couples are faced with all the practical decisions that need to be made on financial, property and child arrangements – as well as numerous other matters.
Finding a resolution can feel complicated and overwhelming at first. Traditionally, sorting out these arrangements has been done with the involvement of solicitors and if necessary going to court to get a Judge to make a decision.
However, divorce mediation is fast becoming the preferred way to sort out all these matters as it makes the process more straightforward. No matter how high emotions are running or how trapped you feel in an endless tit-for-tat legal dispute, there is very often a more common-sense way forward. All the research tells us that long-term legal arguments cause real damage to families, especially when children are involved. This is why more and more couples are opting for divorce mediation – a much simpler, kinder and less destructive route than the old-fashioned adversarial court route. Unlike lawyers, mediators work collaboratively with both of you, not just one side or another. Mediators give both parties an equal opportunity to voice their intentions, wishes and concerns and are experts at helping you work together to reach a fair solution and mutually acceptable settlement.
As an area of family mediation, divorce mediation can help separating couples come to an agreement on every aspect of their divorce, such as finances and property, and child arrangements, without the additional cost, delay, and stress of going to court.
If you are considering using mediation to help you divorce or separate, this guide breaks down everything you need to know about the process.
What is divorce mediation?
Divorce mediation is the process by which separating married couples meet with a trained mediator to sort out their post-divorce settlements. These settlements most commonly include financial, property and child arrangements. Rather than each spouse appointing their own solicitor to argue their case, the divorcing couple work with an impartial mediator to find workable solutions without having to go to court.
Both parties are given the chance to discuss divorce arrangements and unresolved issues with the help of a neutral mediator. The divorce mediator usually has a background in family law, helping each party understand their legal rights and responsibilities. This gives each party the necessary information to make fair and workable settlements that hold up in the eyes of the law.
The divorce mediation process
The divorce mediation process is often considered much less stressful than battling issues out in court. The process takes place across a number of mediation sessions, where ex-couples meet together with a trained mediator to develop mutually agreeable solutions.
But how does divorce mediation work exactly?
The process can be summarised in 3 simple steps:
- Attend a MIAM meeting
- Attend joint mediation sessions
- Come to a written agreement
1. Attend a MIAM meeting
If you are wondering whether mediation might be the best option for you, you’ll first be invited to an introductory meeting known as a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Here, you’ll have your first meeting with your mediator, where each party can discuss their situation privately and confidentially.
This meeting is just between you and the mediator and gives both divorcing parties the opportunity to speak about their experiences, the outcomes they wish to achieve, and any concerns they have about the divorce. The mediator will also set out the different ways that you can use to sort out the practical aspects of your separation so that you can be certain that mediation is the best option for you.
The MIAM meeting also helps the mediator assess whether mediation is likely to work for you and what the best model of mediation is going to be in your particular situation so that you feel comfortable and safe throughout the mediation process. Your mediator will inform you of everything you need to know before your first joint session, including what to bring and how to prepare.
2. Attend joint mediation sessions
Assuming you both decide you wish to mediate, the divorce mediator will help you find a mutually convenient date for your first mediation session.
It is up to you whether your mediation session takes place in person, or online. Online mediation is becoming the preferred method amongst most divorcing couples. Not only is it more convenient and flexible, but it is also ideal for divorcing couples who don’t wish to be in the same physical room as one another.
In your first joint mediation session, the divorce mediator will start by making sure you are both comfortable with certain ground rules, such as talking in a respectful manner and not interrupting when the other person is speaking. The next stage is all about information gathering. If you’ve come to mediation to sort out a financial settlement, the mediator will help identify what financial information you will each need to provide so both of you have a clear and complete picture of the family finances.
If you’re trying to sort out arrangements for your children, the mediator will need to have a really good grasp of your children as individuals and also about your domestic situation so that they can help you work out a bespoke solution that takes into account all the details of your family life.
Once all this information is available to both the participants and mediator, you can then move on to the next stage of the process - generating options and possible solutions. Your mediator will guide you through the sessions, ensuring a level playing field and facilitating constructive communication between you and your ex-partner. Both parties are given the space to discuss unresolved issues from their own perspective and work toward an agreement.
The mediator will keep the sessions focused on the mutually agreed agenda topics and divert you from unhelpful distractions and going off at a tangent. It is very common for divorcing couples to get caught up in their emotions and to want to focus on what has gone wrong and blame the other person. The mediator is an expert at, redirecting the discussion back to the main matters at hand so that you can focus on the future rather than stay stuck in the past.
The family mediator works with both participants to generate ideas and options about how you might be able to find a way forward. Although a mediator will always remain impartial and not take sides, mediators have lots of experience and can make suggestions for the couple to consider.
By the end of a successful mediation, the divorcing parties will have come to a mutual agreement on all the issues - whether that’s child arrangements or a financial and property agreement.
3. Come to a written agreement
A divorcing couple will want any agreement to become legally binding. Mediators will prepare a document setting out the joint proposals that have been reached. Particularly in mediations about finance and property, the couple will want to take legal advice to check that their proposed agreement is fair from a legal perspective, and they can then use the mediation document for this purpose.
Assuming the couple wish to confirm their agreement, they will need to sign an agreement document and they can also ask the court to make what is called a ‘consent order’ which then makes the agreement legally binding. This is something that your mediator can advise on. Whilst solicitors rarely attend mediation sessions, solicitors and mediators work closely with one another.
The benefits of using mediation for divorce
There are a number of benefits to divorce mediation.
Most notably, the main benefit is having a third-party impartial family mediator present. When a couple is divorcing, everyone takes sides - whether it’s family members, friends or lawyers. But a family mediator is trained not to take sides, but to work with and for both of you to find a solution for the whole family. A trained mediator can help make the divorce more simple and straightforward, providing a route map with a structure and framework and keeping conversations and negotiations focused.
In any divorce, it is easy for the conversation to become sidetracked. In less amicable divorces especially, successful outcomes can be hindered by name-calling, arguments, and disagreements.
A divorce can bring up a lot of uncomfortable memories. Mediators are empathetic towards this, whilst keeping the focus on moving forward, rather than looking back.
The main benefits of divorce mediation are that it is:
- Cost-effective - divorce mediation is a cheaper way to settle disputes than battling it out in courts.
- Less stressful - mediation is often much less stressful than going to court.
- Fully confidential - sessions are private and confidential.
- Flexible - mediation can work on your terms. Sessions can be weekly, monthly, or fortnightly. Whatever works for you.
- Focused on improving long-term communication - learn to rebuild communication with your partner where children are involved.
- Informative - understand what is legally taken into consideration and what isn’t.
How long does divorce mediation take?
Divorce mediation is intended to provide ex-couples with an efficient and constructive way to settle disputes. As a result, the process can help speed up divorce agreements.
For instance, if there is a high level of animosity between you and your ex-partner, this might make effective communication more challenging. The mediator is there to ensure that the conversation does not go off track and to help you look past any overriding animosity and instead focus on constructive collaboration – this can help make your divorce mediation sessions more time-effective, and also help you develop healthier communication methods with your ex-partner.
Divorce mediation can also take longer depending on the number of issues that are covered in sessions. If there are a lot of issues to cover, more time is often needed to mediate each dispute. For example, if you wished to mediate solely for a financial agreement, this would typically be quicker than mediating for financial, property and child arrangement matters.
All in all, mediation is usually a quicker way to settle disputes than going through court – where ex-couples may find themselves in lengthy legal battles which can often take as long as a year to get to a final court hearing.
The costs of divorce mediation
Going through a divorce is one of the most stressful life events that you are likely to face. It can also be a very expensive time, especially if one of you is moving out of the family home. Paying for excessive legal fees is often the last thing anybody can cope with when separating, especially when you may already be worrying about how you’re going to cope and how a financial settlement is going to affect your finances.
The good news is that settling a dispute through divorce mediation is cheaper than settling it through solicitors and the court.
But how much is divorce mediation exactly?
In the UK, the average cost of divorce mediation is around £150 an hour, per person. Prices will range above and below this average. For example, at Mediation First, it costs £144 per person per hour for mediation. However, legal aid is also available for those who are eligible and, for those who are not, the government has introduced a £500 voucher scheme to help with the cost of mediation about child arrangements.
Read more about the costs of mediation here
In contrast, it typically costs each person between £10,000 to £25,000 to use a solicitor, and sometimes much more, making mediation the less expensive option.
What happens if children are involved?
Divorce is a stressful time for everybody involved, including the children. When children are involved, the mediator will always put their needs first and help you both to do so as well.
Many divorcing parents mediate to work out arrangements for their children. Although in all cases, mediators will keep the focus on the needs of any children.
When using mediation to sort out child arrangements, there are options for child-inclusive mediation. With the parents’ consent, a child mediation specialist can speak with each child to get an understanding of what they want to happen following the separation. The mediator can then pass on to the parents what the child wants to say about their wishes and feelings so that the parents can take the child’s views into account in their discussions. When parents are locked in arguments about arrangements for their children, hearing the “voice of the child” in mediation can be a very powerful and effective way to break the deadlock and bring about solutions that work for the whole family.
Do I need a mediator for divorce?
Divorcing through mediation is not compulsory. Although, if you do need to settle your disputes in court, you usually have to provide evidence that you have attended a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM).
This is in order to prove that you have considered divorce mediation as an option. Since it is necessary to attend a MIAM regardless of how you decide to divorce, many people decide that mediation is worth trying because they can see that it can save so much time, cost and stress.
What happens if you don’t reach an agreement?
The good news is that the vast majority of our clients find a way forward in just a few sessions. However, there are some couples who can’t reach an agreement through the mediation sessions. Some mediators offer a hybrid form of mediation where the couple would then bring their solicitor to be part of the mediation meetings in the hope that having legal advice ‘on tap’ will help find a solution. Some of the more progressive mediation services also offer an evaluation service. For example, Mediation First has developed a quick and inexpensive evaluation process. We have teamed up with a leading Barristers Chambers so that a specialist family law barrister can look at your overall financial situation and your proposals and provide a written indication of what a judge would consider fair. It’s a great way to be confident that your mediated settlement will obtain the seal of approval from the court.
However, there are some cases where a consensus simply cannot be found. In those cases, the divorcing couple may then decide to each appoint a solicitor to try and negotiate a settlement or they may conclude that there is no alternative but to apply to the court for a Judge to decide. Even in those situations, the couple can use all the information that has been gathered in the mediation sessions in their further negotiations.
Ask about divorce mediation
If you are wondering how best to sort out the practical aspects of your separation and divorce, you are in the right place to get helpful, friendly information so that you can work out what the best way forward for you is going to be. We understand that you need answers in this time of uncertainty, and we are here to help. Our specialist family mediators can guide you in the right direction.
To find out more about mediation for divorce, or enquire about mediation sessions, speak to our team to get started.
Tel: 0330 320 7600