I commonly come across the following mediation misconceptions in my role as a family mediator:
1. “I thought the mediator would give us a decision”
My role as a mediator is to be neutral and impartial. I cannot make decisions for the couple or tell them what to do. Mediation is a bespoke process which is client focused, and client driven, so the decisions are made by the couple. As a lawyer-mediator, I can provide legal information to the couple, such as what the relevant factors are and what the court would take into account. I also encourage my mediation clients to take their own legal advice alongside the process. In contrast, if you go to court the judge can impose a decision upon you which you have no control over.
2. “I thought we had to be in the same room”
Usually the couple and I are in the same room to discuss matters. It is always possible to have time apart during a session if needed, and a second room is always made available to facilitate this. Sitting around a table with me as an independent third party often assists discussions and helps facilitates agreements more quickly than traditional solicitor correspondence and distance negotiations. If, however, you do not feel able or comfortable sitting in the same room as your former partner it is possible to be in separate rooms. I can then shuttle between the two rooms. This usually takes longer but can assist couples to resolve matters. Sometimes after a while people sometimes find they want to move to being in the same room.
3. “The children are excluded”
Some mediators are trained in child consultations and can see the child/ren if the parents agree. The child/ren’s views can then be fed back to the parents in a later session. This can be invaluable and helps the child/ren feel and know they are being listened to. The welfare of any child/ren is always of paramount importance.
4. “The only professional will be the mediator”
Sometimes it is helpful and appropriate to have a co-mediator and I conduct several mediations with a co-mediator. This can be another lawyer, but more commonly a professional with another skill set, such as a family consultant. In addition, a financial consultant can be brought in, for example to explain the options regarding sharing the pensions and the impact on their financial settlement options. In addition, if the couple and I agree, another third party can be present, such as an adult child, or family friend, to help make the process run more smoothly by making people feel more comfortable.
5. “Mediation is compulsory”
Family mediation is not compulsory, it is voluntary. No-one can be forced to mediate. The mediation can also be ended at any time by either the client/(s) or me. I would only end a mediation if I felt it was becoming abusive, harmful or no longer the appropriate forum for the couple to resolve matters. It is compulsory to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making an application to the court for a financial order or an order relating to children, unless it is an emergency or other limited circumstance.
Please feel free to ask me any questions you have about family mediation during the live Question and Answer session I am doing on Twitter on Wednesday 24th January from 1pm – 2pm using #AskSarahMB .
For more information about family mediation, please call 023 8071 8057.