Family Mediation helps couples, who are separated or divorced or in the process of separating or divorcing, reach agreement about important issues - especially those concerning their children.
Couples are invited to meet together with a mediator in an informal, confidential atmosphere instead of exchanging correspondence through their solicitors or appearing separately in a formal court. They are helped to identify the issues they want to sort out, to express their own views about them and then to negotiate together to find common ground and reach solutions acceptable to them both which are the best possible for their children.
Usually there is one partner who is anxious to leave, or has left the relationship; while the other one may be feeling left behind. Although it takes time for couples to come to terms with this emotional inequality, many can be helped to arrive at sensible, workable solutions to the areas in dispute and appreciate the opportunity to reach their own decisions about such important personal matters.
In all the difficulties of these painful decisions the mediators are practical and compassionate. They are trained to help people, once intimate both as a couple and as parents move to a new relationship as a separated couple sharing parenthood. The mediator helps them to focus on the best outcomes they can devise for their children and for their own futures.
Matters dealt with include:
- the divorce / separation decision and arrangements for the children (who should have day to day care, or how to share care of the children, and what contact the children should have with the other parent)
- decisions about property and finance – dealing with these matters always involves a trained lawyer as a mediator or as a consultant.
- Financial support for the children
When mediation includes both children and financial matters, as is often the case, it is called “All Issues Mediation”.
Help from a Mediation Service usually starts with separate meetings for individuals to find out about mediation to ensure they want to take part and that they feel safe meeting their ex-partner with a mediator. Other issues such as safety, confidentiality and eligibility are also discussed at this preliminary meeting.
There are then a number of joint meetings with the outcome and any decisions reached being written into a memorandum of understanding or an outcome statement. This is given to the couple so that everyone is clear what has been decided. When mediation also includes financial and property matters, it takes a little longer and the written outcome is more detailed. (See Facts and Figures for more information)
Arrangements, particularly in relation to children, will need to be adjusted to new circumstances. So while it is important that couples make their decisions together during the mediation sessions, it is equally important to enable the ex-partners to develop ways of resolving issues themselves in the future. Mediation will help couples develop strategies for future communication. Mediation Services also offer review meetings and encourage couples to use the Service flexibly.
Mediation and Children
One of the most important features of mediation is the help it can give parents to focus on the needs of their children at the time of divorce or separation.
Mediation can help parents plan their children’s lives co-operatively so that they can see as much of both parents as possible with the least possible conflict. Mediation works best if parents come to a Service before disagreements become entrenched or children hurt and bewildered by seeing the conflict between their parents.
The 1989 Children Act stated that each parent continued to hold “parental responsibility” even after divorce and the law generally encourages parents to reach agreement only seeking court orders if they cannot agree. The 1996 Family Law Act gives mediators a specific duty to help parents consider the wishes and feelings of each of their children and consider whether the children and young people should express their views directly in the mediation process. Additionally, with the availability of public funding (legal aid) there is a duty on solicitors to offer their clients the option of trying mediation first and, in fact, all who wish to apply for legal aid should have a meeting with a mediator to see whether it would be suitable for them.
After seven years of contracting with the Legal Services Commission, the National Audit office published its report: Legal Aid and Mediation for People Involved in Family Breakdown.
The N.A.O. findings in brief are that disputes resolved through family mediation are cheaper, quicker and less acrimonious than those settled through the Courts and that mediation provides longer lasting, more durable outcomes for families.
Research shows that their parents’ divorce or separation can be a difficult time for children. However, much depends on whether the children have the security of their parents still trying to work together, even if living apart, and whether they are given the information they need about emotional and practical aspects such as moving house, changing schools etc. Children and young people need to be heard and listened to without being overwhelmed by “adult” responsibilities and decision making. If these positives can be achieved then their parents divorce, whilst always significant, can become a survivable experience for children rather than a major trauma.
Mediation Services help in a variety of ways
- mediation with the parents, directly including the children where appropriate
- information and guidance for parents at a very difficult and emotional time
- direct help for children in the form of individual or group meetings
- information literature, videos and other materials for both adults and children
- signposting to other more appropriate services if required
Access to Justice Act 1999
The implementation of the Access to Justice Act 1999 has made meditation more widely available and has the following effects:
- the costs of mediation can be fully met through Public Funding (formally Legal Aid) for clients who are financially eligible
- this mediation can only be provided by suppliers who have a contract with the Legal Services Commission and meet their quality standards
- all NFM Services have such contracts
- NFM services are available countrywide
The Development of Family Mediation
Family Mediation began in Bristol in the voluntary sector in 1979 as an initiative to avoid the worst effects of prolonged conflict and litigation, especially for the children, at the time of divorce and separation. This was very much the idea of a “better way” through the divorce experience. National Family Mediation was formed initially as a loose federation of the small number of pioneering mediation bodies.
In the 1980’s mediation was extended to finance and property matters.
By the mid nineties the NFM network of Mediation Services had developed to provide mediation nationwide on “All Issues”, i.e. finance and children’s matters. There was no secure funding for mediation work and Services were funded from charitable trusts, children’s charities and partnership funding from Local Authorities and to an even greater extent the Probation Service. NFM remains the only voluntary sector provider. It has established quality standards for all its services that have been used by the Legal Services Commission in its funding process.
Family mediation is regulated by The Family Mediation Council of which NFM is a founder member.
The Family Law Act was passed in July 1996 and this gave mediation an official role as a recommended option for divorcing and separating couples in dispute.
The Present Situation
- NFM has a network of 48 Services, all providing mediation on All Issues.
- All our Services have contracts with the Legal Services Commission to provide mediation to those on a low income who qualify for publicly funded mediation
- All services have achieved the LSC quality mark standard
- All mediators are recognised as competence assessed in accordance with the Mediation Quality Mark standard.
Providing high quality mediation so that it is truly accessible to all who could benefit remains a key goal.
Since the implementation of the Family Law Act 1996 and Access to Justice Act 1999 the use of family mediation to resolve disputes has been steadily growing from around 400 cases per year in 1999 to 17,000 cases in 2008. There were, however, 130,000 divorce petitions during the same period which indicates mediation is not being used as widely as it might be. The recommendations of the national Audit Office report are that mediation should be more widely used, it has cost effective benefits AND, more importantly, produces better outcomes for families.