Divorce mediation has been growing in popularity in the UK over the last 10 years.
This is partly because it’s a relatively cheap and amicable way to end a marriage, but also because the government has been promoting it as an alternative to the more costly and stressful process of settling differences in court.
The government has even gone so far as to offer couples free vouchers to help pay for mediation services. In some circumstances, consulting a divorce mediator is now compulsory for couples before they are allowed to begin court proceedings to impose a settlement.
Going through a divorce is undoubtedly a challenging and emotionally taxing experience.
Mediation offers a less stressful alternative and has become a highly effective approach to resolving disputes.
What is mediation in divorce proceedings
Mediation is a voluntary process in which a neutral third party, known as a mediator, assists divorcing couples to reach mutually acceptable agreements regarding child arrangements and financial settlements.
The process is based on the need to avoid confrontation. The mediator acts as a facilitator, promoting communication, understanding, and compromise between the parties involved. It is important to note that the mediator does not provide legal advice but instead guides the discussions to help both parties find common ground.
This is why it will still be important to have a divorce mediation lawyer with you to advice you and your interests are being protected. Your spouse should be represented by a different lawyer.
How mediation works
To begin divorce mediation, both spouses must agree to participate willingly.
Typically, each spouse is given the opportunity to express their concerns, goals, and desired outcomes. The mediator helps identify areas of agreement and disagreement and encourages open communication and brainstorming of potential solutions.
Throughout the mediation sessions, the mediator assists the couple to explore various options and alternatives, evaluating the pros and cons of each proposal.
By fostering constructive dialogue, the mediator helps the couple generate tailored solutions that meet their unique circumstances and the best interests of any children involved.
Mediation Participation Agreement
From the outset, each partner signs a Participation Agreement.
This lays out the ground rules and the areas and points of difference to be covered during the mediation discussions.
Crucially, there will be a condition that if the mediation process breaks down and one of the spouses decides to go to court instead, then both partners must find new lawyers to represent them.
This may seem strange but it’s to make sure that both spouses and their solicitors are committed to the process and determined to reach an amicable settlement without having to start court proceedings.
The mediation process then proceeds to constructive meetings involving both spouses and their lawyers.
Legal and moral support
Your lawyer will not only provide legal advice but also moral support. This can be vital if one partner feels intimidated by the process, or the surroundings, or even their estranged spouse.
When you have discussed all the issues and hopefully reached agreement, the mediator will draw up a summary of that agreement for each partner. Your solicitor will then use this summary as the basis of a consent order to be submitted for court approval.
That submission is usually just a formality once you have reached your agreement and there should be no need for you to attend court.
Mediation and Financial Settlements
Financial settlements are a crucial aspect of divorce proceedings, and mediation offers a constructive platform to address financial issues.
During mediation sessions, couples can discuss matters such as the division of assets, property, pensions, debts, and spousal maintenance.
The mediator helps you consider all relevant factors, such as the financial needs of each party, the welfare of any children involved, and the standard of living established during the marriage.
Through these structured discussions, couples can explore various options, such as offsetting assets, creating a clean break agreement, or establishing a payment plan for maintenance.
Child arrangements and custody
Mediation can play a vital role in helping divorcing parents establish child contact arrangements and custody agreements that prioritise the well-being and best interests of their children.
The mediator may guide you towards creating a parenting plan that covers issues such as residence, visitation schedules, holidays, and special occasions.
The focus is on creating a stable and nurturing environment for the children while ensuring both parents have meaningful involvement in their lives.
Assessing Child Maintenance
Child maintenance, which involves financial support for children, is another critical aspect of divorce proceedings.
Mediation provides a platform for parents to discuss and agree upon child maintenance arrangements that meet the children’s needs.
The mediator assists in exploring various models for maintenance, such as a family-based arrangement or using the services of the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).
The goal is to find a fair and sustainable solution that ensures financial support for the children without causing undue financial strain on either parent.
Benefits of Mediation
Ending a marriage can put huge stress on both partners. It’s all too easy for bitterness to set in and for positions to become entrenched.
This is not only emotionally draining but it is also potentially damaging to your children to have their mum and dad at loggerheads, perhaps constantly picking fault with each other and airing resentments.
These entrenched positions can become more rigid if couple continue to disagree and disputes have to go to court.
It’s better for you and your children if this can be avoided. Mediation is a way to avoid much of that tension and hardening of attitudes.
Preservation of Relationships
Mediation focuses on fostering positive communication and understanding between divorcing couples. By maintaining a respectful and cooperative atmosphere, mediation can help preserve relationships, which is particularly beneficial for ongoing co-parenting.
It’s obviously going to be better for your children if their mum and dad can retain a polite and, on the surface at least, friendly relationship over the remaining years of their childhood.
Empowerment and Control
Mediation empowers couples to actively participate in decision-making, as they have a direct influence on the outcome of their divorce settlement.
The importance of this can’t be stressed enough because if you can’t resolve differences amicably, you may have to go to court and let the judge settle matters.
Once you do that, you lose control.
The judge will, of course, do everything possible to be fair but will make decisions based on the law and what’s best for your children. The outcome may not be to your liking. You may even find that the judge orders a settlement that is worse from your point of view than the one you may have rejected when offered by your spouse.
It’s generally better to agree a settlement where you retain some control than have a settlement impose upon you having given away control.
Mediation empowers couples to actively participate in shaping the terms of their divorce settlement rather than having decisions imposed upon them by a judge.
Mediation is often more cost-effective compared to traditional court proceedings. By reducing the need for prolonged litigation, couples can save on legal fees, court costs, and other associated expenses.
You will still need to consult with your solicitor but compared to going to court, mediation is generally more cost-effective. While court proceedings often involve legal representation and lengthy litigation, mediation reduces the need for prolonged legal battles.
Though the cost of mediation varies depending on individual circumstances and the complexity of the case, it is typically more affordable than court fees and legal representation costs.
The mediation experience
Divorce mediation may not be suitable in all cases but most couples who try it find it helpful and report positive experiences. Mediation provides a safe and respectful environment for open dialogue, which can help improve communication between spouses.
This is particularly important where one spouse is nervous about appearing in court.
Couples often appreciate the opportunity to maintain control over decision-making, as it can lead to more satisfactory outcomes for both parties involved.
The voluntary nature mediation, the focus on communication, and the ability to produce tailored solutions have made it a popular choice among those seeking an amicable and cost-effective divorce process.
By engaging in mediation, couples can address financial settlements, child contact arrangements, child custody, and maintenance issues in a cooperative and customised manner.
Divorce mediation news
Divorce mediation has been so successful and cost-effective that the government has been keen to promote it as better option than going to court.
While part of the motivation is undoubtedly to reduce the pressure on family courts, there is not doubt that mediation is helpful to many couples and worth encouraging.
Mediation compulsory before court
In March 2023, the UK government announced that it planned to make it compulsory to try divorce mediation before they would be allowed to go to court.
Ministers also said they were considering penalties for spouses who refused to take part. So far, these measures have not been brought into effect but they show just how important the government feels mediation can be and how determined it is to ensure that couples at least try it.
Too many divorce cases in court
In July 2022, top family judge Sir Andrew McFarlane said about one in five divorces were ending up in court when they would be far better settled by other means such as mediation.
Sir Andrew, head of the family courts in England and Wales, said parents were fooling themselves if they thought their children would not be affected.
Divorce mediation vouchers
In July 2022, the government announced it was doubling its scheme offering couples £500 mediation vouchers to help them settle their disputes amicably. It said it wanted to “spare parents and their children the anxiety and cost of often lengthy and acrimonious courtroom disputes”.