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14 January 2015

What is divorce or family mediation?

In recent years, there has been a huge increase in the number of couples attending family mediation in an attempt to avoid a bitter court dispute. This is following a drive from the Government in recent years to try and deter couples from going to court and instead to deal with matters in a more conciliatory and less confrontational way.

Mediation helps couples work things out together.  It is not a form of relationship counselling, or a way to help a couple get back together.  Instead it helps couples who are separating decide on the way forward.

How does it work?

  1. A referral is made to a family mediator (either from a family lawyer or directly from the client).  A family mediator is a person who has been professionally trained as a family mediator and generally has a background in family law.
  2. Each of the parties will separately attend an assessment meeting (MIAM) with the mediator to ensure that they are suitable for the mediation process.  Both parties will be asked to provide their financial disclosure.
  3. Following the assessment meeting, provided the mediator believes that both parties are suitable, they would arrange a meeting for both parties to attend with the mediator.  At this meeting, both parties would be encouraged to try and address the issues between them and to try and work towards reaching an agreement.
  4. Further sessions may then be required until the parties can reach an agreement.  At any point, either party may choose to terminate the process or take their own independent legal advice regarding the discussions.
  5. Once matters have been agreed, the mediator will prepare what is known as a “Memorandum of Understanding”, which will record the agreement that the parties have reached.
  6. Both parties will then be advised to seek their own independent legal advice upon the Memorandum of Understanding, to ensure that they fully understand the implications and further, to enable the client to receive advice as to whether the agreement reached is fair given their particular circumstances.
  7. If, after having taken legal advice, both parties still wish to proceed, a formal Consent Order may then be prepared and submitted to the court for approval.  There is no requirement for either party to attend court in this scenario.

Emma Alfieri from Steeles Law’s family law team comments: “Parties who meet certain criteria will qualify for public funding in respect of family mediation and even if only one party qualifies, the other party would also receive the first session free, even if they do not qualify themselves.”

Emma added: “There appears to be is a misconception that seeing a divorce solicitor is going to result in court action.  This is not the case, as today family lawyers are trained to deal with matters in a non-adversarial way.  These days the ethos is very much focused on encouraging the parties to reach an agreement and to avoid court at all costs.  Often, we see clients for an initial appointment and encourage them to attempt mediation.  If the client agrees, we will refer them to mediation and will be there for our client in the background to assist them with advice throughout the mediation process and following the mediation, to assist in formalising the agreement reached.”

Whist Steeles Law do not offer a mediation service in house, we offer a specialist service in assisting clients through the mediation process.  This work can be done on the basis of a fixed fee or on a “pay as you go” service.

For the month of January, Steeles Law is offering 30 minutes advice for free to clients looking to get a divorce.  Please contact us now to make your appointment.

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