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A practical guide for separating couples

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Family mediation is an alternative route to resolving disputes where an independent mediator helps families to reach an agreement. Mediation can be used for a variety of family issues including divorce, separation, finances following separation and arrangements for children.

The mediation process starts with an initial meeting where the mediator will explain the process, ask about the dispute and answer any questions. If the matter is suitable for mediation, the couple will then be invited to attend joint meetings to discuss the issues and try to reach a resolution. The mediator will facilitate discussions and explore settlement options with families to assist them to make informed decisions and hopefully reach an agreement. The mediator cannot provide legal advice within mediation but the couple can individually obtain advice from a solicitor alongside the process.

There are many advantages to mediation including:

  • Costs – It can be considerably cheaper than litigation or solicitor negotiation. The cost of mediation can also be shared.
  • Quick – Mediation can be a lot quicker as the couple can decide when they wish to conduct each meeting. This avoids the long delays often associated with court proceedings.
  • Flexibility - The couple can decide how they want to structure the mediation process rather than being restricted to a set timeline as is typical of the court process. It is also the couple’s decision what agreement they choose to reach rather than a decision ordered by a Court.
  • Confidentiality – Mediation is a confidential process meaning anything discussed during mediation or any documents produced cannot be disclosed outside of the process unless agreed. This can help individuals to explore settlement options more freely.

Some disadvantages to mediation process are:

  • Unsuccessful outcome – The couple may be unable to reach an agreement within mediation and will therefore need to explore another route to resolve the dispute which will incur further cost.
  • Agreements are not legally binding – An agreement reached at mediation will need to be drafted into an order and approved by the court in order for the agreement to be legally binding. A solicitor can assist with drafting this.
  • Not Compulsory – Mediation is a voluntary process so no one can be compelled to attend.

A few top tips for preparing and engaging in meditation are:

  1. Focus on the issues in dispute and be prepared to listen to each other’s point of view;
  2. Be realistic and open to compromise; and
  3. Put the children’s interests first.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.
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