Frequently asked questions about family mediation
Family mediation can be a confusing process. Here we list the most frequently asked questions about family mediation. We hope it helps answer your question, but if not, just drop your question in the contact form below and we will get back to you with an answer.
What is Family Mediation?
Family Mediation is the process of resolving issues on your divorce, separation or ongoing parenting arrangements. Previously, if you could not agree on these matters, you would have no option but to file an application with the family court for either a Child Arrangement Order or a separate application for a Financial Order. The court process takes a long time to reach a judgement, is expensive and in many cases is not the best place to resolve disputes, especially within a family setting.
Family Mediation replaces the need of going to court. By using a professional family mediator, most people can reach an agreement that allows them both to move on.
Having a neutral third party to control the conversation, ensure parity and fairness in the process and keeps discussions on the things that matter. Nationally, more than 70% of clients reach agreement through mediation.
It is not therapy or relationship counselling and whilst it can look at how you communicate with each other, it is very much about planning the future and not looking back over the past.
How long does mediation take?
This can vary from case to case. For a one issue matter, such as parenting arrangements at Christmas, a holiday abroad or a change in the amount of spousal maintenance then many are able to reach agreement in just one joint mediation session.
The average for most clients on parenting or financial matters is 3 x 90-minute mediation appointments.
What happens at a MIAM appointment?
You will initially need to complete an initial mediation meeting called a MIAM. They can also be referred to as an intake meeting. These are usually attended on your own, but sometimes you can go together. If this is the case the mediator will still want to chat to each of you individually.
The MIAM serves two purposes:
- It is your chance to explain to the mediator about your situation, what the issues are, what you would like to happen and any concerns you may have.
- It also allows the mediator to give you full information about how mediation works. The mediator will then decide whether mediation is suitable for your case. You may also decide whether to attempt mediation at this stage too.
What is the Family Mediation Process?
Click on the flow chart below for Mediate UK’ s process. We are different from most mediation services as we can also make you agreement legally binding as part of a fixed fee package
But the start of the process is the same nationally. In most cases we would see you individually at first for your MIAM and then prepare a plan for your joint mediation meetings. We would usually discuss any parenting arrangements first, before completing a financial disclosure with you both and then going through your financial agreement.
You would normally have an outcome summary prepared at the end of your joint meetings and once agreement reached, the mediator can draft a full parenting plan, memorandum of understanding and financial agreement.
These documents can then be made legally binding depending on your circumstances.
Do I need a divorce solicitor?
Legal advice during the process should be recommended by every family mediation service in the UK. Taking good legal advice before and during the process can help and a solicitor can also check your agreement at the end. Mediate UK also offer fixed fee legal advice, which include a written report that you can bring into mediation if you want.
At the end of the mediation process, you will usually need a family law solicitor or lawyer to make your agreement legally binding or you can choose one of Mediate UK’s legal packages. The choice is always yours.
Is Mediation in the UK compulsory?
In most cases, it is a legal requirement to consider mediation by ways of attending a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before you can ask a court to make a decision on your case. There are currently 15 exemptions to this, which range from domestic abuse, to living abroad or child safety. If, having attended a MIAM either you (or the mediator) decide that you do not want to do mediation, then you do not have to attend.
If you have been invited to attend a MIAM and do not respond or decline, you may have to explain your reasons why to the judge.
In some cases the judge may adjourn your proceedings whilst you attempt mediation. Even in such circumstances you do not have to attend, although the judge will want to know the reasons why.
Is Family Mediation just for divorcing couples?
Not at all. Family mediation can help parents who are separated, grandparents with gaining access to their grandchildren, couples who were co-habiting or couples who have divorced and have ongoing financial or parenting issues to resolve.
If you would ultimately file an application at court to resolve the issue, then family mediation can help.
How much does Mediation cost in the UK?
According to a study by the Family Mediation Council in 2019, the average hourly rate including VAT for family mediation is £140 per person per hour. Most issues are resolved in three to four 90-minute meetings. At Mediate UK the cost to reach resolution in this time is £632.50 each including VAT.
If you are on certain benefits or have a low income without many assets, then you may be eligible for legal aid for mediation. If you are eligible, then the other party will not have to pay for their MIAM or their first joint mediation session either.
Who pays for mediation costs?
This is by agreement between you. Most services will quote per person as it shows a commitment to the process if both parties are paying their share. Sometimes couples will agree that they will attend if the other party pays and sometimes they will settle up the costs from the financial agreement reached.
Most mediation services will ask you to pay as you go for the mediation you receive.
Why consider family mediation as an option?
There are four main reasons why you should consider family mediation.
- We know it is compulsory to consider it. But why is that? Most family law professionals, the Courts themselves and Department of Justice agree that mediation is a far better way to resolve disputes, rather than going to court
- It is quicker – the average length for a financial order to be finalised is 14.5 months, according to a Aviva Report published in 2018. Mediation can be set up within a few days or weeks.
- It is cheaper – most firms of solicitors will quote you in excess of £20,000 for a full financial order through the courts, which will include three hearings.
- It is more amicable – this is especially important if you have children together, irrespective of their ages. Courts are set up to be adversarial.
What qualifications does a family mediator have?
There are three levels of family mediator:
- Trained Family Mediator (FMCT)
Although not officially recognised as a FMC standard, this indicates they have successfully completed an FMC approved family mediation training course. They will usually be working towards their accreditation.
- Accredited Family Mediator (FMCA)
This shows the mediator has completed a portfolio of cases, which usually takes about 2 years.
- Professional Practise Consultant (PPC)
A PPC is the most experienced family mediator and will have successfully passed a further PPC course and will have several years of experience. They will coach and help other family mediators.
Can our children have a say in the outcome?
Yes! In fact it is encouraged in family law. If both parents agree, the children can be invited to mediation by a specially trained family mediator. The child(ren) will speak to the mediator on their own and then, with the children’s permission, this can be fed back to the parents at a separate meeting.
If you went to court, as long as the children are of a certain age and the judge agrees, then CAFCASS will speak with the children. So family mediation simply looks to replace this process.
Are Family Mediation Services confidential?
Absolutely. It is one of the five core principals of family mediation in the UK. You can speak freely to your mediator during the MIAM without having to worry that what you say will be passed on to the other party. Similarly you can discuss options, solutions and make offers in mediation without being bound to them were mediation to break down.
All divorce mediation in UK is ‘without prejudice’ – which means you can safely make offers and explore solutions, without being tied to them if your case goes to court. It is a perfectly safe negotiating environment.
There are exceptions to this confidentiality, such as if a child is identified as being at risk of serious harm, or if money laundering is taking place. The mediator has certain legal obligations to pass this information on in these rare circumstances.
What can be discussed during a mediation session
The mediator will have agreed with you before the sessions what you wish to discuss during mediation. This will usually revolve around what future parenting arrangements you can agree and what financial agreement you can reach. But it can also cover how you communicate with each other moving forwards or what interim arrangements can be reached whilst your divorce mediation is taking place.
Family mediation also covers specific issues such as a family holidays, arrangements at Christmas or who will make the next mortgage payment on your property.
Mediation can also help Grandparents who wish to agree arrangements to see their grandchildren.
What’s the difference between family mediation & counselling?
There are many differences, but these are the main ones:
- Family mediation is a process that replaces going to court
- Mediation looks forwards, not back over the relationship
- Family mediators focus more on the issues to be resolved and less on the underlying relationship
- Mediation consideration is a legal requirement, in most cases, before going to court
Counselling can certainly help with your ongoing relationship with each other or the wider family. You can search for local counsellors here.
Do we have to be in the same room as each other?
No. Most mediation for divorce, separation or parenting arrangements involves you and your family mediator being in the same room. This tends to work best and helps you reach an agreement in less time.You can however choose to have shuttle mediation. This is where you are in separate rooms and will
usually have different arrival and departure times. The mediator will allocate their time equally between you and ‘shuttle’ between rooms to help you reach an agreement.
With the popularity of online mediation, you don’t even have to be in the same building and you can even do ‘shuttle mediation’ online – where you will be in separate break-out rooms. So you do not even have to be on the same screen as the other party in this case.
How does online mediation work?
On-line mediation occurs in much the same way as face-to-face mediation in the UK.
The mediator will usually hold separate MIAM appointments and will then put a plan together for your joint mediation appoint. Online Mediation can work really well as it helps people focus on the issues. Only one person can speak at a time and as you are not in the same room, heightened emotions can be less of a problem.
What happens with financial disclosure during mediation?
Each service will have their own policy on financial disclosure.
There are three levels of financial disclosure you can make with Mediate UK:
High level – just the total for each of the four disclosure categories (property, other assets, liabilities and pensions)
Financial Disclosure Forms – You complete our spreadsheets, which are legally acceptable for a disclosure.
Form E – You both complete a Form E and sign them off as accurate. This is the form you would complete if you were to go to court.
The disclosure is swapped between you both and you have a chance to examine it, ask questions through the mediation process and finally agree it. The disclosure can be disclosed to court, so it is important that it is accurate, as up to date as possible and you have included everything you need to disclose. This includes assets, even if they are not being divided between you or changing hands as part of the settlement.
An accurate disclosure will allow you both to get a consent order from the court. Without this, either of you may make a future claim against the other.
At Mediate UK, 80% of clients use our own financial disclosure forms. If clients opt for a high-level disclosure only, they have to sign a disclaimer before the agreement can be sent to the solicitors.
Collating, finalising and agreeing what assets you both have is a key part of the mediation process. If you cannot agree on which disclosure option to do, then the default is to complete Form E’s each. There is a full guide to financial disclosure here.
Is mediation legally binding?
At the end of the mediation process, you will be usually receive one of the following documents:
- An Outcome Statement
- A Memorandum of Understanding
- A Parenting Plan
- A Financial Statement
An Outcome Statement is used when no or only partial agreement is reached. It can be helpful in narrowing the scope of the issues, so that you spend less time going through the legal process, allowing you to just focus on the issues that have not been agreed in mediation.
A Memorandum of Understanding
This is the main documents produced from a successful mediation. It will lay out what you have agreed in your mediation appointments. It is not legally binding but can be made so through a consent order with your divorce.
You can also have your intentions recorded in a deed of separation, which invites the court to accept your agreement in case of any future disputes. These are usually drafted by a solicitor and your signatures are witnessed with the document held on file.
A Parenting Plan
This is the plan that shows how you will raise your children whilst living separately. It can cover everything from schooling, holidays to grandparents and religious considerations. The plan is not legally binding but can me made so by consent through a child arrangement order.
What other parenting help is available for us?
Sometimes the relationship between parents is so fraught and toxic, that it seems impossible to work together to reach an agreement on how to raise the children. Family Courts can send parents on a Separated Parents Information Plan (PIP) – where the parents learn how to prioritise their children and manage conflict in their ongoing relationship.
Mediate UK want to keep parents out of court, so we have teamed up with Kids Come First to provide coaching to parents going through a separation. It can work really well when there is high conflict, when your views on parenting are far apart, or when you just want an experienced professional to guide you through the separation.
Where can I get legal advice in the UK?
Good legal advice is an important part of UK Divorce Mediation. To get the most specific advice for your financial case, it is helpful to have a full financial disclosure from each party. This allows the solicitor to understand the complete picture for your specific situation and then advise accordingly.
To get the advice you need you can find a solicitor local to you – and we recommend searching for a Resolution accredited solicitor.
Alternatively you can book in a one or two hour legal advice package, which importantly, include a written report of that advice. These can be used any time during the mediation process, or even if you are not attending mediating. The two-hour package does not have to be taken at one time, so you can use it before and after the mediation for example. You can also have you agreed memorandum of understanding checked by a solicitor, for a fixed fee, before you decide to proceed with your agreement.
What happens if mediation breaks down?
If mediation does not work, most people would have six options:
- Do nothing
- Take a break from discussions
- Request a Barrister Review
- Solicitor-led Negotiation
- Got to Arbitration
- Apply to the Family Court
Do nothing – if you have not agreed to change the current situation and you cannot agree to change it through mediation, you may accept that you tried and just continue with the status quo.
Take a break – Sometimes it is helpful, especially in high tension and emotive matters to take a break from the process and try again in a few months, once matters have calmed down somewhat.
Barrister Review – Set up by Mediate UK in 2015, our Barrister Reviews have been a revelation to help clients where they could not reach an agreement in mediation but also want to avoid the costs of going to court. An independent barrister will write a report on what the law is, how it applies to your case and, if you went to court, what would be a likely outcome.
Solicitor-led Negotiation – You would ask you respective solicitors to negotiate between them in the hope that this will lead to an agreement prior to court.
Go to Arbitration – You both need to agree to arbitration, but you have a legally binding outcome. Generally cheaper and quicker than attend court.
Apply to the Family Court – By attending mediation and it subsequently breaking down, you will have satisfied the legal requirement to submit an application to the court, for them to make an order on your matter.
What if the other party does not want to attend mediation
Family Mediation is always voluntary, even when a case is adjourned by the court to attempt to reach an agreement through mediation.
You do not have to attend and neither does the other party. It is one of the core principals of mediation – you have to engage in the process and want to resolve the matter.
If you don’t, then mediation is not a suitable method of alternative dispute resolution. If the other party does not want to attend mediation and is not communicating to resolve the issue, then you can apply to the court, having attended a MIAM. In such situations, a Fast-Track Online MIAM might be more suitable for you.
If the other party does not attend the court hearing without good reason, they may be held in contempt of court, or more usually, a legally binding order will be made on the case in their absence.
Remember: The judge will usually want you to explain why you have not attended mediation if you have been asked to go. See here for more information on whether it will go against you if you do not attend mediation.
What is an independent barrister review?
These are a great tool if mediation breaks down, but it can also be used from the outset of negotiations if you both agree.
Exclusive to Mediate UK, we hold a license for direct bar access. We carry out a full financial disclosure and then ask you to list what the issues are that you cannot agree on, and what you would like to happen for each issue, along with your reasons why.
We then send this report of to an independent but expert family law barrister, who writes a report on what the law is, how it applies to your case and, if you went to court, what would be a likely outcome. In the last four years all but one case (an exceedingly complicated one involving a severely disabled child) have accepted the barrister review or negotiated slightly on it to reach an agreement. See here for more information on our independent barrister reviews.
What if we already have an agreement or are close to reaching one?
We have many clients approach us who do not want to go to separate solicitors, but do not need mediation as they have either reached agreement, or are very close to reaching one.
If you are in a similar situation, you may like to consider Divorce Facilitation. This is where we collate your financial disclosure, and get an overview of your current situation and what you have agreed. You then have a 90-minute meeting with one of our divorce experts to sense check your agreement, make sure you have considered everything the court would like you to have looked at and then help make sure you are splitting the assets as cost-effectively as possible.
This is great to help you fast-track your divorce agreement to our family law solicitors to help make it legally binding.
What should I consider when choosing a UK Family Mediation Service?
There are several factors to consider when choosing who to trust with your family mediation:
- Qualifications – Anyone can call themselves a mediator, but to be a Family Mediator they must have attended a recognised family mediation course. Always check that you are dealing with a mediator who is registered as either FMCA or FMCT.
- Membership – The mediator and preferably the company should be a member of one of five mediation bodies:
- Experience – How long have they been carrying out mediation? Have they just a few years’ experience or a decade of mediating?
- Size – Is the mediator a one or two-person micro business or are they an established business with a selection of mediators to choose from? This can be a serious consideration if your mediator was long term sick, retires or the small business goes under. What would happen to your case in such circumstances?
- Cost – How much do they charge per hour? If you are eligible for legal aid, you should definitely choose a mediator who provides mediation funded by legal aid. Pricing for mediation does not always reflect quality or mean that they are a best fit for your case. You are better off looking at
- Reviews & Recommendations – There is nothing better than a personal recommendation. If you do not know anyone who has used a local mediator near you, then see if there are any reviews for them online
- Legal Packages & Other Services – How much does the mediator charge for their documents at the end of your family mediation appointment? Do they help you make these legally binding? Can they recommend a pension expert, legal advisor, mortgage broker or other professional to help your case?
What other options of dispute resolution are there?
There are 10 methods to resolve a dispute on your divorce or separation. You can view our series on these on our YouTube channel here:
In some cases you can resolve matters with your solicitors sitting round the table, called collaborative law. You can also consider going to an arbitration service – which is cheaper and quicker than going to court, but still gives you a legally binding order at the end.
Does Mediation in the UK actually work?
Definitely. We have been helping couples mediate since 2011 and of those who go on to mediate together, an amazing 90% reach an agreement. The national average is just over 70% – so whichever Family Mediation Service you choose to help resolve your dispute, you are more likely than not to reach an agreement.
What is ‘progressive mediation’ and how can it help?
Mediate UK have developed a process of family mediation called progressive mediation. We want to help you get to an agreement as cost-effectively as possible, so we help focus on the issues that will help you move forward, prioritise any children of the relationship and keeps discussions on what you can do in the future, rather than what has happened in the past. This means you get better value for your pound but also get to a resolution quicker, allowing you both to move on.
Progressive Mediation helps you focus on the practical requirements of your divorce or separation, allowing you to focus more on the emotional side.