No matter how amicable you feel your separation or divorce may be, there are bound to be stressful times ahead for everyone involved. From financial settlements and pensions, to breaking the news and the arrangements for children, there’s a lot to think about. But it’s important to remember that there are tools out there that can help the whole process run that little bit smoother. Mediation is just one of them.

Mediation isn’t the right path for everyone, and its success is dependent on a number of different things. That’s why seeking expert legal advice is always advisable, so that you can ensure mediation is right for you. If it is, however, you might have a number of questions, and in this week’s blog, we’re providing a few tips around how you can prepare. 

What can I expect at my first mediation appointment?

Your first session with a mediator may well involve a fair bit of information gathering, so that they can understand more about what it is you want to achieve. The mediator will also outline the process, including what the expectations are and how things will work. They’ll explain their role, and how they’ll remain completely impartial in order to reach the best possible for all involved.

It’s important to remember that it’s not the job of a mediator to advise you, they are there purely to facilitate measured discussions and negotiations.

The mediator will discuss the options for the mode of mediation too. It can take place in person or by video. You have the options of meeting together with your partner or being in separate rooms which the mediator will go between.

The first session is also a great opportunity to ask any questions you might have, so that you’re fully prepared for future sessions.

If you wish you can be supported through mediation by your solicitor. They can attend the session with you, or provide advice over the telephone between sessions.

Can the children be involved?

If the mediation is about child arrangements, there is the option for your child(ren) to have a voice in the process, as long as you’re using a mediator who is trained to undertake child inclusive mediation.

Third parties can also be brought into the mediation process to provide information to both parties. This might include mortgage advisors, property valuers, accountants and pension experts. Your mediator will be able to give you information about this too.

Set clear objectives

Coming to your first session with some idea of what you want to aim for is useful. Perhaps create a list of bullet points to help you stay focussed. It’s also a good idea to separate the more contentious or big issues from the smaller ones, as doing so may help you to tackle them more effectively.

If your particular matter involves the arrangements for the children, some of the considerations might include:

  • Who your children will live with.
  • Which birthdays, Christmases or other special occasions will be spent with which parent.
  • How much time your children will spend with extended family members, such as grandparents.
  • Is any financial support required by one of the parents and, if so, how much?

If the issues are financial, it’s important that you’re confident you have a full picture of your respective financial positions before you reach any agreement. You cannot fairly divide assets, liabilities, pensions and income if you do not know all that there is to divide. You should also understand what options are available to you when it comes to settlement terms and any pitfalls to avoid.

Part of setting objectives includes taking time to review your progress after each session. Has anything been resolved? Have you brushed over an issue that needs further discussion? Do you fully understand everything that’s been agreed? Comparing your outcomes with your objectives will help you ensure you end up with an outcome that works for you.

What if we can’t reach an agreement?

Although mediation can be very successful, this isn’t the case for everyone. It might be that you manage to resolve some issues but not others, or that you simply can’t come to an agreement about anything at all.

Whilst you should always go into mediation with a positive approach, having realistic expectations and understanding that you may not solve every issue is also something to keep in mind. If mediation isn’t successful, seeking legal advice is very important. That way you’ll be able to get the guidance you need to move forward.

Seek legal advice

As we’ve stated above, mediation isn’t something you should commit to without first seeking legal advice. Whilst it can save both time and money in some situations, if it’s not appropriate for your circumstances, it can be expensive, and result in a double cost if it isn’t successful.

Your solicitor will be able to inform you of your position, and provide an objective view about whether mediation is right for you. It also means that you’ll have someone ready to advise on any agreement made.

What will happen if we reach an agreement?

If you’re able to come to a financial agreement, the mediator will draw up a memorandum of understanding. This records your intentions but isn’t binding. It’s important that a legal agreement is prepared and signed, or a court order obtained by consent, after the mediation process so that you have a binding and enforceable agreement.

Your solicitor will be able to help you with this. If you’re able to come to an agreement about the child arrangements, the mediator may help you draw up a parenting agreement. If not a solicitor will be able to help with this or, if required, you can ask for a court order to be made by consent.

If you’re thinking about a divorce or separation, and have questions about whether mediation could help, speak to one of the team at Harrogate Family Law today. We’re here to help, just get in touch here