22 January, 2024
The 22nd January 2024 - 26th January 2024 is Mediation Awareness Week. In a cost-of-living crisis, is it a good time for you to consider settling your family dispute via mediation?
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution which does not involve going to court. The process is confidential and involves an independent third party (a trained mediator) to assist parties and to try and find some middle ground. Parties do not have to accept the mediator's suggestions, and are not bound to settle within mediation sessions, but often it is helpful to have an open discussion to identify what practical solutions there may be going forward, and what factors are important to both parties.
Mediation is most commonly used to resolve issues regarding the arrangements of children, and divorce and finance disputes. Often, parties will attend mediation sessions without their lawyers, but it is advisable to have been advised on your position prior to the mediation session.
Parties should note that under Part 3 of the Family Procedure Rules the court has powers to encourage mediation, and in recent caselaw (WL v HL  EWFC B10) Judges can penalise parties for refusing to engage in mediation. Since April 2014, there has also been a requirement for parties to attend a MIAM (Mediation Information Assessment Meeting) before making an application to court, unless an exemption applies. After a MIAM, if the case is appropriate for mediation, mediation sessions can commence, as long as both parties show engagement and a willingness to find some common ground and resolve the dispute amicably.
Since March 2021, the Ministry of Justice has rolled out a Family Mediation Voucher scheme. This allows parties to claim £500 towards the costs of mediation, which hopefully provides as incentive for parties to seriously consider mediation, saving the costs of expensive litigation. The scheme is now in place until 2025, however, the scheme will then be replaced by a permanent mediation fund of £500 per dispute.
Standard cases regarding children disputes, or divorce and finances, can take somewhere in the region of 24 months to resolve through the Court process. The length of time it takes to resolve a case depends on its complexity, and the willingness of the parties to engage. Within mediation, this process can be considerably quicker. Sessions can be timetabled as and when the parties want, with as many sessions as they see fit. Timetabling a mediation session does not involve depending on an overburdened court system.
As a result, resolving a dispute in this way can save costs. Mediation costs are generally lower than lawyers and barristers costs, and the parties tend to share the costs equally, rather than both instructing their own lawyer. However, it is advisable to speak to a lawyer before and after your mediation, to advise you on your legal entitlement, and consider if the agreement reached is fair. The agreement will then need to be drafted into a consent order and sent to the court to review its fairness. The cost of this legal advice and drafting will often be considerably lower than taking the process through litigation.
Furthermore, parties are given autonomy. They are able to decide to settle at any point and decide their own terms of settlement. In the long run, this can preserve the relationship between the parties, however, this can only be achieved if the parties cooperate, are willing to engage in the process, and willing to compromise on certain aspects. Here are a couple of recent mediation success stories from Forbes Solicitors.
Find out more about mediation here.
If you are thinking about attending mediation or have already attended mediation with your ex-partner and want to discuss and finalise your agreement, please get in touch with the Family department at Forbes Solicitors on 01254 580 000 or make an online enquiry here, and we will be happy to assist you.
For more information contact Annabel Stainer in our Family/Divorce department via email or phone on 0333 207 1130. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.
Learn more about our Family/Divorce department here