Mediation – helping to forge family-centred solutions
In the first of a series of posts about mediation, we’ll start by looking at what it is and what it seeks to achieve, and the part a mediator can play in helping couples deal with important practical issues surrounding separation, enabling them to go their separate ways and move on with their lives.
What is a MIAM?
If you’re separating or divorcing, you and your partner may find it difficult to resolve problematic issues surrounding your finances and the care and welfare of your children, and you may think that your only option is going to court to settle matters. However, in most circumstances, before you can approach the court you are now required by law to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM).
The purpose of this meeting is to see if by working with a mediator, a neutral third party, you could resolve the issues between you and avoid the need for court proceedings.
Mediation can be undertaken at any stage and even before a separation, and is able to offer couples several benefits:
- It gives families control over important matters such as their finances and how their children are cared for, rather than having the decision of a court imposed upon them
- It can open up or help to create a dialogue that will assist both partners to deal with issues that arise in the future surrounding the care and welfare of their children
- It is often less stressful, less confrontational, quicker and cheaper than going to court.
What sort of people are mediators?
The role of a good mediator has been likened to being a combination of ship’s pilot, hospital consultant, midwife and guide. Their job is to be neutral and impartial, seeking out the common ground that exists between couples and using that as a springboard that will create the right environment to enable them to find solutions to their problems.
Many mediators are solicitors or legal advisers, and all have been trained in how to facilitate communication between people who can often be finding it difficult to come to terms with the breakdown of their relationship and discuss issues with their former partner.
Whilst mediators can suggest ways in which a dispute might be resolved, they don’t judge or offer their own opinions. They are good listeners and aim to convey the necessary optimism to encourage the participants to thrash out their own workable arrangements.
What happens during a typical mediation session?
The mediator will begin by talking to each party separately to establish what they want mediation to achieve for them, and the issues they wish to see resolved. Both sides will then be able to come together under the mediator’s guidance to begin the process of working through the points they wish to be addressed.
It is recognised that some people can find it difficult to be in the same room with their former partner, and in that case, the mediator will still be able to help by speaking to each partner in separate rooms and relaying the proposals and conveying their reactions, in the hope of reaching a consensus. This is known as shuttle mediation.
Priorities and timescales will be established from the outset. If there are children involved, then their welfare needs and contact arrangements will be a paramount consideration. If the couple are looking to work out a financial settlement between them, they will need to provide full financial information about all their assets and income. The overall aim is to reach an agreement and for a “memorandum of understanding” to be drawn up reflecting this and one that both parties feel they can sign up to.
In future posts, we’ll look at whether what’s agreed at mediation is legally binding, and what happens in case where an agreement can’t be reached.