To mediate or not to mediate? That is the question but what is the answer?

Let’s start at the very beginning with a family as an example..

We have two parents, let’s call them Mum and Dad for now (but that’s not to exclude all the other types of family units at all).

Mum and Dad get together, marry and have two children. Let’s call them Son and Daughter for now. They all live together and do all the usual things that lots of families do day in and day out.

Sadly, Mum and Dad decide they no longer wish to be married to one another and they cannot decide how they are going to sort things out for Son and Daughter. Things start to get pretty heated at home. Mum and Dad are both quite stressed and upset and angry. Son and Daughter feel like they are caught up in the middle of this and start to hate being at home at times. They are really worried Mum and Dad will end up going to Court and forcing them to choose who they like better. They also think both Mum and Dad are ignoring their feelings.

What could happen next?

If this was an episode of a soap opera, then probably things would conclude with a hostage situation and the Flying Squad being dispatched or a plane crashing into the court room. That’s probably a tad overdramatic.

If it was a legal drama, then there would likely be a lot of lawyers posturing in fancy suits and expensive haircuts but not actually helping their clients out much at all as they would be too busy having lunch or an affair with the lawyer acting for the other parent. Most family lawyers will tell you it’s nothing like that in real life as we don’t always stop for lunch!

Back in the real world, Mum or Dad might apply to the Family Court for a child arrangements order to get what they want. The judge will decide what happens, which could very easily lead to more upset, more arguments and vast expense before the case is concluded. Leaving everyone feeling out of control of their own lives, especially Son and Daughter

Months in Court proceedings and hefty legal bills are not usually the first choice of most people who genuinely do want to sort things out but don’t know how to. Going to Court still should be a very last resort in most situations.

Fortunately, there are some other options for Mum and Dad which might offer a better solution for them but also for Son and Daughter.

Family Mediation is one of these possibilities.

Before we describe what mediation is, let us just point out what it isn’t. It is not counselling or therapy. It is not RELATE or any form of marriage guidance. It is not about persuading Mum and Dad to get back together.

So, what is mediation then?

Mediation is an opportunity for Mum and Dad (and perhaps Son and Daughter where appropriate) to self-regulate through compromise the arrangements of their separation. In mediation they talk to one another about their common ground and goals and work together to achieve those for the whole family. Most importantly they are helped to try to listen to one another in a safe and neutral space and try to find out where agreements are possible.

Your mediator is completely impartial, they aren’t there to take sides. They are there to help the people involved move their discussions along.

Your mediator won’t give you legal advice but they can provide you both with information and helpful suggestions that will help you consider all options available to you.

It is entirely voluntary to attend so if Mum or Dad tries but feels it’s not working for them, that’s ok, they can choose not to carry on at that point. But they can try again another time if they want to as it’s always there when needed.

When you first meet a mediator, you speak to them by yourself. At the initial meeting, what you tell them is largely entirely confidential (even from the other person you will be mediating with).

The mediator will do their best to ensure both people are on an even footing in the discussions, so that one person doesn’t feel shouted down by the other or unable to express their own views.

Mediation can take place in the same room or in separate rooms, and even over the internet these days. You can talk to your mediator about what will work best for you.

The joint discussions are also confidential generally so that means the discussions Mum and Dad have cannot be shared with anyone else, even the Court, unless they both agree that information can be shared. This means they can talk through lots of different options to see if they might work for their particular family situation and not commit themselves legally to one thing.

If Mum and Dad have lawyers advising them, they might discuss mediation ideas with them too as it can be really helpful to understand the legal possibilities alongside the plans they are considering together.

It might be possible for Son and Daughter to voice their opinions about those plans in Child Inclusive Meditation. Please don’t worry though, Son and Daughter don’t sit in the same meetings as Mum and Dad. The mediator will speak to them separately and help them decide how they want to tell Mum and Dad what they are thinking about and feeling. If Mum and Dad are able to talk through what they are stuck on with the help of the mediator to keep them looking forwards, they might reach an agreement they are happy with. Mediation is great if people want to stay in control of the outcome.

It is well known that if people come to their own arrangements by agreement, it’s much more likely that the plan will work out. If it’s imposed on you by a Court and you don’t like it, then it will be much harder to get on with it. Mediation is a process that focuses on agreement and compromise. It is both emotionally and financially cheaper than legal proceedings. It is a process that in almost every case must be considered by families before embarking on a Court process.

If mediation isn’t the option for you, or if you want something else as well as mediation, then there are a number of other options too which your family lawyers and mediators at Geldards will be able to tell you all about such as:

  • Arbitration
  • Collaborative law
  • Early Neutral Evaluations
  • Private “court” hearings
  • Round table meetings
  • Solicitor-assisted negotiations
  • Hybrid mediation

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