Mediators are sometimes confused with marriage guidance or relationship counsellors, which they are not. A family mediator is appointed on the breakdown of a family relationship; a neutral professional who assists the separating couple in reaching settlement of their arrangements, whether in relation to their children and / or financial and property issues.
A skilled and experienced mediator can assist even when emotions are running high. Although many couples are capable of meeting with the mediator together, some are not. In those circumstances the mediator can meet with each of the parties separately in individual meetings so that they do not come face-to-face. Such individual meetings enable the mediator to spend time with each of the parties, hearing what is important to them, how they see things and exploring options for the future.
It is an important principle of family mediation that the mediator must be capable of discussing with both anything that either tells them. Accordingly, both parties can be confident that if the other has told the mediator something that is relevant to the issues being mediated, the mediator will tell them and discuss it with them.
The mediator can provide legal and other information to the parties. Mediation clients often report that it is extremely helpful to have some guidance from the mediator as to likely parameters for outcome and settlement.
Financial information and documents are gathered by the mediator and collated to complete the disclosure statement and bundle. Considerable costs can be saved by this process being conducted by one professional as opposed to two (ie each party’s solicitor). The same high threshold for full frank and complete disclosure of financial information is observed as if the case was proceeding in Court.
Proposals and ideas for possible settlement are always ‘without prejudice’; that means that if the case does not settle, the Court will not hear the detail of various proposals. The mediation room is a safe place to explore different ideas, options and proposals for settlement. Any proposed settlement only becomes binding once the parties have had an opportunity to take legal advice outside of the mediation process; if they then wish their arrangements to become binding, a final settlement or order will be drawn up.
Relationship and family breakdown is inevitably a very difficult time for all family members, particularly children. Mediation works; it is designed to focus on the needs of children, preserving the parties’ dignity and financial resources. Mediation usually saves costs and time and has a high success rate. It involves little risk; either party can withdraw at any stage and all negotiations are confidential. It is flexible in that the arrangements to meet are made at times convenient to the parties, who negotiating the terms of their own settlement feel more in control, tailoring the outcome to their particular situation. Research shows that those that have reached an agreement themselves rather than having one imposed upon them by a Court, are much more likely to be satisfied with the outcome.
By Karen Barham
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