Published on April 24th, 2014 | by Parenting Solo2
New rules on mediation for separating parents
Family justice reforms mean separating couples will now have to take compulsory mediation awareness sessions. Marilyn Stowe, senior partner at Stowe Family Law, talks us through the mediation process.
Mediation can seem a scary prospect – can you outline what it might consist of?
Mediation is an informal process and a good mediator should make you feel relaxed. The idea is for couples to negotiate the settlement amongst themselves having first given each other full financial disclosure. A good mediator should make sure that everything is covered. A non-legally trained mediator might not spot what is missing or whether one of the parties is being fully up front, such as by providing accurate pension information, company and property information. They will be helped to reach their agreement by the mediator. A legally trained mediator will know what a court is likely to do. And at the end of it all, they can walk away with a settlement, which both parties have agreed to, rather than something that has been imposed on them by a judge.
Is mediation for everyone?
Mediation isn’t for everyone at all. It’s not suitable for cases where there has been violence or threats within the relationship. It also shouldn’t be used when one party feels they haven’t been made aware of all the assets. Also, no-one should proceed with mediation if they’re uncomfortable with the idea. Mediation is a very personal decision and requires a great deal of trust. You rely on the other party being honest and forthcoming. Mediation needs to be entered into on an equal footing.
Some lone parents might feel intimidated by the prospect of opening up to a stranger – how can they best prepare themselves for mediation?
A skilled mediator will immediately put everyone at ease. That’s what they’re there for. If the mediator fails to make both parties feel comfortable, the process will fail. Confidence in the skill of the mediator is an absolute must.
What does mediation offer over and above arrangements being discussed and formalised with a couple’s respective solicitors?
Mediation allows couples to retain control. They won’t be putting their fate at the hands of a stranger, a judge, who might make a decision, which both parties disagree with. Mediation is likely to be cheaper than court proceedings and result in a quicker decision.
Does mediation always work?
A major stumbling block for mediation is its lack of teeth. In court, you have to disclose financial information. There’s no such order for disclosure when it comes to mediation. The couple in mediation has to trust that the other party is being honest. This obviously doesn’t work for everyone, especially if there are concerns over one party hiding something.
What qualifications do mediators have and are they bound by confidentiality agreements?
To qualify as a mediator you have to complete a training course recognised by the Family Mediation Council. Mediators also have to take part in further annual training. Mediation is confidential. However, confidentiality can be broken under extreme circumstances, such as when one of the parties has committed an unlawful act or there’s risk of harm to someone else. This will be explained to the participants at the start of the process.
Are sessions always held with both parents, or would the mediator see mum and dad individually at first?
In all cases, mediators must be sure that both parties are taking part in the process willingly and it’s the right decision for them. As part of this screening process, they meet with everyone individually. Following the initial meeting, all other sessions are normally conducted with the couple together in the same room. However, it can be done on a ‘shuttle’ basis with each party in a separate room and the mediator negotiating between them.
Is there a ‘right time’ for mediation?
I think mediation is often used at the wrong time. In the early days of a relationship breakdown, most couples know little about their overall financial picture. Often, they are overwhelmed and too emotionally raw to give proper consideration to the issues. In my opinion it is vital to wait, at least until financial disclosure has taken place, before proceeding with mediation. This should give both parties enough time to come to grips with the breakup as well as giving them a better understanding of where they stand financially..
What do you think about mediation? Have you gone through it, or are you planning to?