Who pays for family mediation?
Family mediation is a process used to resolve disputes with the help of an impartial professionally trained third party to avoid court proceedings and minimise the involvement of solicitors. Where it’s suitable, family mediation is a more cost-effective alternative to legal proceedings, and can be used to resolve a range of family separation matters including child, property and financial disputes.
Whilst mediation is almost always cheaper than pursuing court cases through a solicitor, there are still things to consider in terms of the costs of mediation, including who pays for mediation?
Who pays will depend on a number of factors, such as your eligibility for legal aid, the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme, your financial circumstances and the payment agreement you make with the other participant.
In this guide, we help you stay informed about who usually pays for mediation in different circumstances before you proceed with mediation, so that you can budget accordingly.
What are the costs?
The cost of a mediation session varies from mediation service to mediation service.. For many individuals, the first step of the family mediation process will be a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). As a general guide, a MIAM will cost around £120. The cost of subsequent mediation sessions will vary depending on the experience and location of the professional mediator that you’re working with.
At Mediation First, we offer a fixed fee MIAM meeting for £120 (including VAT). This meeting provides you with all the information you need about the mediation process, including the likely costs.
For more clarification on the costs of mediation, take a look at our related guide: How much does mediation cost? Or, you can get in touch with the Mediation First team for more information on our pricing.
Privately funded mediation
If you don’t qualify for legal aid, or the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme, then family mediation sessions are a private, paid-for service.
In the scenario where neither participant is eligible for legal aid, the question becomes; who pays for the mediation sessions? There are several possible outcomes here, as the cost can vary, and the individuals seeking mediation have an element of choice, too.
Shared cost agreement
The default position is that each participant pays their own share of the mediation costs. So if you are both private clients, you will each pay your equal share of the mediator’s fees. If one of you is eligible for legal aid and the other is not, then the eligible one won’t pay anything for the mediation or MIAM while the private client will not have to pay for his or her MIAM or the first joint session but will have to pay for their share for all the other work done by the mediator.
The mediator will provide you with an estimate of the total cost of the mediation following your MIAM meeting. Although the most common way is for individuals to share the total cost equally between them, there is nothing to stop participants agreeing between themselves to share the cost differently, based for example in proportion to their respective incomes.
Cost sharing is the most ideal, fair solution to aim for. It’s not always this simple, but if you can come to a shared cost agreement, it can help the sessions get off to a good start and help you reach a solution quicker, as you will be equally invested in working towards a mutually acceptable outcome. There is no fixed rule that suggests this should be done a particular way, and differs case by case. For example, a divorcing couple might agree to split the costs 50:50, or, decide to split it 70:30.
Who pays for mediation, and the proportion of cost sharing, will often depend on the financial situation of each individual. In some cases, a participant that earns considerably more than the other may agree to contribute a more proportionate amount to the total payment.
Cost sharing in one form or another is usually the best way to pay for family mediation, as it ensures that each individual has an investment in the sessions, encouraging better engagement and attendance. If only one person is paying for both, the payer can feel aggrieved and resentful if the mediation is taking longer than they would like especially if, in their opinion, the non-payer is dragging their feet.
What if the other participant won’t pay?
Some individuals may feel that the other person is the instigator of the problem, and that they should be responsible for the fees. However, there is no way for a mediation service to enforce this. If someone is refusing to pay, but you want to go ahead with mediation, you can either attempt to resolve the disagreement with further discussion - possibly with the assistance of the mediator - or pay for the mediation in full yourself. The final option is to decide not to proceed with the mediation and apply for a family court order.
However, applying for a family court order should be a final resort, as this will add extra time and money to the process. Bear in mind that mediation generally takes less than half the time of a court application and costs less than a quarter of the average cost of using a solicitor to help you make an application to the court. This is because, unlike the adversarial “how long is a piece of string” process of using solicitors, mediation is a finite process. 95% of our cases are concluded in four or less mediation sessions - the majority with a settlement. Those entering mediation can therefore be reassured that the overall cost is also finite. That is why we are able to give clear estimates of the cost of mediation before the mediation starts.
If you have any concerns about how the other participant will contribute, then your mediator will be able to advise on the best way to approach the other participant when suggesting to cost share.
When is payment required?
This will vary from mediation service to mediation service. Some require payment for the whole mediation process up front at the start of the process. Others will invoice following each stage of the process.
At Mediation First, in cases where clients have to pay for mediation (i.e. not benefitting from legal aid or the voucher scheme), we ask to be paid as the mediation progresses. This means that the cost is spread out over the duration of the mediation process which hopefully makes it more manageable. We can also in a large number of cases offer a fixed fee arrangement so the clients know exactly what each stage of the process will cost, and won’t get any nasty surprises. Where clients are paying an hourly rate, we ask for money in advance of each stage of the process so again the payments are staggered and the client can keep track of the cost.
Who Pays For The MIAM?
There is no official guidance determining who should pay for the MIAM. Like mediation sessions, the normal practice is for each participant to pay for their own individual MIAM but participants may decide between themselves how to pay for it. However, it is possible for the person who initiates the MIAM process to be faced with a scenario where the other party may choose not to cooperate, simply on the grounds of cost. So, if you’re concerned about this, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and discuss how to split the costs before the session to avoid any unexpected surprises.
Legal aid funded mediation
Depending on several different financial factors, you may qualify for legal aid. If you are eligible for legal aid, then your mediation, including the initial Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) and further sessions, will be free.
To be eligible for legal aid towards the cost of family mediation, you’ll need to demonstrate that your case meets the criteria when assessed by an accredited family mediator during your MIAM meeting.
Does each participant need to apply for legal aid?
Mediation is free of charge to individuals who are eligible for legal aid. In order for both participants to benefit from free mediation, each participant must individually apply.
If both participants are eligible, then the MIAM meeting and following mediation sessions will be free of charge. However, if only one participant is eligible, then only the initial MIAM meeting and first joint mediation session will be free to the non-eligible participant and that person will have to fund their share of the further work done by the mediator.
Your eligibility for legal aid is an important factor to consider when sharing the costs between each other. If one participant is not eligible, you may wish to negotiate to split the remaining costs between yourselves, though there is no obligation to do so.
If you have any queries about this process, speaking to your chosen mediation provider is the best way to get clarification. Contact Mediation First today and ask us any questions you have about legal aid.
Mediation First has a contract with the Legal Aid Agency to offer legal aid for family mediation. This means Mediation First is subject to stringent and regular auditing by the LAA so clients can be assured that the service offered is of the highest standard. When someone makes contact with Mediation First to enquire about mediation, our Mediation Support Team will make the client aware that legal aid is available to those who are financially eligible. If the client thinks they may be eligible we send them a link to an easy-to-complete online form. Once this is completed they will, depending on their circumstances, be asked to send in evidence to support the claim (for example a screenshot of their latest Universal Credit payment). With both the completed online form and the evidence, the assessor can then normally quickly assess whether the client will be eligible for legal aid. The client will therefore know at this early stage whether they are eligible for legal aid or not. If they are, the MIAM and subsequent mediation will be completely free for them. If they are not eligible, the client would need to pay for the MIAM privately in order to proceed.
How to apply for legal aid
To check your eligibility for legal aid, you can directly contact a mediation service that offers legal aid eligibility advice. Some mediation services, including Mediation First, offer legal aid eligibility assessments completely free of charge and obligation. Our legal aid assessment team will work with you to carry out an assessment before your initial meeting with the mediator.
To find out your eligibility with Mediation First, get in touch with us.
Family Mediation Voucher Scheme funded mediation
The Family Mediation Voucher Scheme was introduced in 2021. It’s designed to support the recovery of the family courts, and help families settle disputes about arrangement for their children without the need for legal action where appropriate. The voucher can be used to cover some or all of the mediation costs.
Eligible parties can apply for up to £500 towards the cost of mediation sessions. However, the voucher cannot be used to cover the MIAM. This must be funded by the involved parties, or through legal aid.
Although the voucher may not completely cover your final bill, taking this funding into account will hopefully alleviate any anxieties surrounding the cost of taking the mediation route.
How to Apply for a Family Mediation Voucher
The mediator who conducts the MIAM will make the client aware of the government’s Voucher Scheme where it’s relevant so the client can factor that into the overall cost of mediation.
Applications for a Family Mediation Voucher take place within the MIAM. The mediator will assess your eligibility, and apply for voucher funding on your behalf if you meet the criteria. The funding will be paid directly to the mediator, and they deduct this amount from the final bill.
What can the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme be used for?
Cases eligible for the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme include the following criteria:
- The application relates to mediation sessions regarding the children of the family.
- If your mediation covers issues concerning both your finances and the children, the voucher can only be applied towards the mediation costs relating to the mediation sessions (or the relevant part of sessions) that are used to discuss the children issues. This means that, if your mediation is solely relating to property and financial matters, you will not be eligible for this scheme.
- The voucher only covers the mediation session and not any other work undertaken by the mediator, for example the preparation of a Parenting Plan.
- Applicants must ask the mediator to apply for the voucher.
- Applicants may not apply for more than one voucher.
If you’re unsure if you qualify for the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme, speak to one of the Mediation First team, today. We can help you identify the best funding options available to you.
Other costs to consider
In addition to the fees directly associated with each mediation session, make sure you’re aware of any other costs you may encounter down the line. This will help you decide on the right agreement when considering who pays for mediation, and manage your budget accordingly.
Divorce application fee
In England and Wales, there is a £593 application fee for starting divorce proceedings. There is government funding available to help pay this fee, usually if you receive welfare benefits, or you’re on a low income.
Applications are available through the government website. Ask to speak to a Mediation First advisor for information when considering divorce application.
Child Arrangements Order
In cases where mediation sessions about child arrangements are unsuccessful in reaching an agreement, parents will have to take their dispute to court. This involves an application fee payable to the court of £232, in addition to any legal advice you may pay for in the form of representation from solicitors or barristers.
Even where parents reach a consensus on the arrangements for their child or children, some want to have the Parenting Plan embodied into a court consent order. The same court fee of £232 is payable for this, which is one reason why most parents feel that a Parenting Plan prepared by the mediator and signed by them both is sufficient.
Financial consent orders
Even if financial mediation results in an amicable agreement, it’s important to get your financial consent order in place in order to make this legally binding. This document legally confirms the agreement you have made within your mediation sessions, and provides both parties with insurance against any future financial claims being made. It effectively draws a line under the financial matters, so you can each move on with your life.
There is no court hearing required, but the court must process the relevant paperwork to certify the consent order. The fee for this is £53, and you can find out more about this on the Government’s money and property when you divorce or separate page.
As a general guide, it’s useful to consider the different ways to fund mediation when planning who pays. Make sure you explore the financial assistance options available to you, and have discussions about costs with all parties involved before starting the process.
Contact us today, for advice on your situation and more information about Mediation First’s services.