The family mediation process: explained
Family mediation is a process that helps people with ongoing disputes come to an agreement so that they can move on with their lives.
Mediation can help with a variety of cases, from coming to a financial settlement as part of a divorce to agreeing on child arrangements.
Regardless of the topic of dispute, the mediation process involves an impartial family mediator, who facilitates the discussion between participants to identify potential solutions. Throughout the process, the mediator facilitates constructive discussion between both participants to help them reach a mutually acceptable way forward.
In this guide, we talk you through the family mediation process step by step. Read on to find out how to get started and learn more about how family mediation works.
You may have been referred to mediation by the family court, or, you may just be considering mediation as an option for resolving your dispute. In either case, there are a few steps you’ll need to follow in order to get started.
1. Contact a family mediator
The first step is to get in touch with a mediator. For family disputes, such as divorce, parenting, financial or property matters, it’s best to speak with a specialist family mediator. Family mediators are experienced professionals, specifically trained in such matters, and often have legal backgrounds in family law.
For instance, Mediation First specialise in family mediation cases. You can get in touch with our friendly team via our contact page, by phone, or email:
- visit our contact page
- Tel: 0330 320 7600
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting)
Once you’ve contacted a mediation service, your mediator will invite you and the other party to a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting). This is a meeting that takes place one-to-one with the mediator, where you’ll individually have an opportunity to tell the mediator about your situation and what you need to sort out. Each participant speaks with the mediator separately.
There is an expectation that both parties should have the opportunity to attend a MIAM, but there are some circumstances, for example, if there are domestic abuse concerns where this won’t be appropriate. This can and will be discussed in your MIAM meeting.
Your mediator will evaluate whether or not they think mediation is appropriate for your situation, and whether you are eligible for legal aid. You’ll get the chance to consider all your non-court-based options, as well as what mediation involves, and its pros and cons; this is to provide you with all the relevant information so you can make the best choice in how you can resolve your dispute.
If the mediator believes that family mediation could help you, they’ll inform you of the next steps. and invite you to take part in joint mediation sessions.
We answer all of your questions about the MIAM in our related article: What is a MIAM? The Process Explained.
3. Contact the other party
If the mediator believes that mediation could be beneficial for your situation, the next step is to get in touch with the other party to propose they engage in mediation.
Your mediator will normally contact the other party, inviting them to their own confidential and individual MIAM, so they too can make an informed decision about the best course of action for them to resolve the ongoing dispute. Assuming on your behalf if you would prefer not to speak to them. Some people prefer this, but it is ultimately up to you.
The mediation process: how do sessions work?
The mediation process can differ depending on the type of mediation being completed, and the topics being discussed. Below provides an overview of how the family mediation process typically looks from start to finish.
1. The mediator contacts participants
Before your first joint mediation session, the mediator will get in touch with you and the other participant to confirm some details. This is usually sent via email, and includes information regarding:
- The date and time of your first mediation session
- The first steps in the process
- What you need to do in preparation for the meeting
- An estimate of the overall cost of mediation and payment details
Your email will also contain an attached ‘Agreement to Mediate’ document, which sets out the principles of mediation and the proposed ground rules. It will also explain the confidentiality of mediation and information about the complaints process.
The mediator will ask you to sign this agreement and confirm that you have read the terms before taking part in the process.
Taking a look at everything the mediator has mentioned in their email will help you gain a better understanding of the process and make sure you are prepared for your first meeting. If you have any questions about the Agreement to Mediate, or the general process, your mediator will be happy to answer them.
2. The mediator initiates a joint mediation session
Once you’ve read and signed the Agreement to Mediate document, you are able to proceed with your first joint mediation session.
At the beginning of the joint mediation session, the mediator will welcome both participants and make sure that everybody feels as comfortable as possible.
They will initiate the session by running through the Agreement to Mediate document with you to check that you have understood everything properly, as well as give you the chance to raise any questions or concerns. Both participants will also be reminded of the ground rules so that everybody has a clear idea of how the mediation process works.
The mediator will guide the session the whole way through and, after introducing the session, will invite each participant to outline their wishes and ideal outcomes for resolving the dispute.
3. Participants outline their wishes
Mediation is all about communication, not confrontation. Throughout the session, the mediator will give both participants the chance to provide their hopes and concerns, perspectives and wishes – this is often understood as one of the main benefits of mediation.
To open up this line of communication, the mediator will ask each participant to talk through what they hope to use mediation for and outline their priorities. Your mediator will already have an idea of this from what has been said individually in the MIAM session; however you each now will have the opportunity to speak about these wishes in front of one another.
This allows the mediator to gather an understanding of what the mediation sessions should cover. They will ask you questions where necessary to help make sure that they have understood your priorities so that these are addressed throughout the process.
The mediator will then put together a step-by-step plan for the process so that participants can see how it will develop at each stage.
4. Joint discussion and information gathering
The next step in the process is to gather information. During this stage, the mediator will invite participants to provide information relating to the dispute.
This information can look very different depending on the topics being covered in mediation. For example, this can exist in the form of verbal statements, personal documentation, legal documents, or other relevant pieces of information.
Financial mediation requires a lot of documentation, such as bank statements, wage slips, mortgage statements, and other documents that provide evidence of your financial situation. On the other hand, child mediation relies more on verbal information from each parent. The mediator will pose questions to each parent, using the answers to gather information about each child and all the important aspects of their and your lives.
Mediators are trained to understand the full story and see the bigger picture, but this is only possible with input from the participants.
In cases where children are involved, the mediator will always consider the wishes and feelings of the child as a priority. This is vital information that the mediator will frequently ask about, and can even speak to your child as part of the mediation process to understand their perspective.
5. Problem identification and idea exploration
Once the mediator has gathered relevant information about the matter, they will start helping you explore different ideas and options that may lead to an agreement.
In most cases, participants will have a preferred idea of what they wish the outcome to be - one that reflects their perspective and priorities - but the mediator may too also put forward ideas for you and the other party to consider.
You will have the chance to ask the mediator questions about each option and understand what each scenario would mean for you. Your mediator can provide information so that you can understand better what each option would mean from a legal standpoint.
Mediation is about collaboration, and often compromise. Where two individuals are at loggerheads, it’s likely that there will have to be an element of compromise from both sides if a final agreement is to be reached. Mediators remain impartial throughout and have the skills to listen for comments that might lead to a way forward for the disputing participants.
6. Reaching an agreement
Reaching a consensus is the end goal of mediation. Most people who use mediation are just looking to move on with their lives and put the dispute behind them, so this stage in the process can feel like a relief to many - even if it has required some compromise to get there.
Once you and the other participant have found a potential way forward, the mediator will explore this option with you further and develop the proposal in more detail. This tests the proposal’s practicality and assesses how well it is going to work in reality.
After all, there is no use in coming to an agreement in mediation if it does not work in the real world.
7. Documenting the agreement
Once a consensus has been reached, the mediator will discuss with you how you’d like the agreement to be documented.
The documentation will look slightly different depending on the topic. For parents reaching an agreement on child arrangements, this is usually documented in a Parenting Plan or Outcome Statement.
For financial and property mediation, agreements are usually outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding, which contains the details of the agreement along with an explanation of how and why the participants opted for this particular outcome. The mediator will have also prepared a Financial Statement, which paints a picture of the participants’ overall financial situation, including assets, pensions and income.
Whilst family mediation agreements are not legally binding, the documentation allows you and the other participant to reflect on the proposal and take legal advice if you wish to. It is then possible and straightforward to make the agreement legally enforceable, which you can find out more about in our related article: how to make a mediation agreement legally binding.
Mediation can work differently from case to case, but ultimately has one end goal: to help participants come to an agreement and move forward in life. Following a step-by-step process, mediation allows individuals to speak about how they’d like to resolve the dispute and reflect on the final agreement. The mediator is present throughout each stage to help guide the conversation and provide you with information and advice around any questions or concerns you may have.
Speak with a mediator
If you have questions about how mediation could work for you, get in touch with one of our friendly mediation assistants. We are only a phone call or email away, and are happy to help guide you through the process.
Tel: 0330 320 7600