Mediation – An Explanation

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Some people believe that mediation involves assisting couples to repair relationship breakdown; a bit like marriage guidance counselling. Others believe it involves sitting down with a third party who acts as an arbitrator and decides how their differences should be resolved. Perhaps surprisingly, family mediation does not fall into either of these categories

So, what is Mediation?

Family Mediation is a process in which separating or divorcing couples are assisted by an impartial third party, the Mediator, to explore the options available to them, and manage the inevitable changes that have occurred or are likely to occur upon the relationship breakdown. The Mediator will help the couple to communicate with one another and to reach informed joint decisions. Mediation can help at any stage of the separation or divorce. For example, when a relationship first breaks down, it can help address the immediate issues, such as how responsibility for the bills is going to be shared or met; how and when to break the news to the children, and what everyone’s living arrangements should be. It can help address issues relating to or arising from the separation, divorce, arrangements for the children, or how finance or property is to be dealt with. The Mediator will help the couple consider the options available to them and consider ways of reaching agreement.

Separating or divorcing couples may find the prospect of face to face meetings with one another difficult. This is both common and understandable. The idea of resolving their differences in a co-operative way may be quickly dismissed if they are not on speaking terms or are aware their respective positions are far apart, but having knowledge of mediation can help them understand and consider the potential benefits.

The benefits of mediation are :-

  • Mediation sessions are informal and more relaxed when compared with the formality of Court proceedings
  • Couples participating in mediation retain control over their own decisions and arrangements. Decisions are not imposed upon them.
  • Mediation helps settle differences and encourages co-operation and the basis for a future working relationship.
  • Couples are helped to look towards the future rather than dwelling upon the past.
  • Mediation facilitates a dialogue between couples who may have stopped talking to each other or who are finding communication difficult
  • Arrangements for the children can be kept to the forefront of discussions. Parents are helped to consider their children’s needs and feelings as well as their own.
  • Mediation enables all available options to be explored and ‘reality tested’ in joint discussions before decisions are taken
  • Mediation enables flexibility and for arrangements to be tailored to particular circumstances and needs
  • Mediation helps to reduce stress and animosity and is generally less upsetting than Court proceedings
  • When compared with Court proceedings, mediation is generally quicker and less expensive


Mediation is not an alternative to legal advice. The Mediator will give information on an even handed basis but will not advise for reasons of preserving impartiality. It is open to the couple to seek independent advice at any stage, whether before during or after the mediation process. The Mediator will encourage the parties to seek independent legal advice, particularly where the arrangements proposed are outside the parameters of what a family Court might order.

How does Mediation work?

The Mediator will normally arrange an initial meeting with the couple, individually and together (an intake session) to explain about the process and to establish whether mediation is suitable for the couple, for the issues in dispute and for all the circumstances. This generally takes no more than thirty minutes.

Mediation sessions generally last between one and a half to two hours. The number of sessions required will depend upon the nature and complexity of the issues to be resolved. On average between two and five sessions may be required.

The discussions in mediation are confidential (with some exceptions that will be explained to the couple at the commencement of the mediation process) and cannot be relied upon or referred to in later Court proceedings if mediation is not successful.

The Mediator, at the end of the Mediation will draw up a Memorandum of Understanding (a summary of the discussions and proposals reached) and if financial issues are involved, an Open Financial Statement recording the financial disclosure. These documents can then be referred to the couple’s respective legal advisers for independent advice and with a view to completing the legal formalities that may be required.

If you require any further information or advice on mediation please contact Jackie Gifford on 01903 229903