To mediate or not to mediate?
As a rule of thumb, in the majority of circumstances, parties should at the very least consider resolving a dispute through mediation.
Mediation in the family law arena operates to bring parties together to reach an outcome in relation to all aspects of a relationship breakdown including divorce, finances and children matters. Parties are guided through the process by a specially trained mediator whose role is to remain completely neutral and impartial but to aid parties towards reaching a balanced outcome agreeable to both.
As family solicitors, we have seen client’s benefit from mediation but there is a caveat that can often hinder the success of mediation. Realistically, both parties need to be willing and ready to engage in mediation. Without both individuals being cooperative throughout the process the prospect of reaching an agreement diminishes.
There has been a government drive to encourage parties to engage with mediation and in fact, it is now a mandatory requirement for parties to at least approach a mediator to attend a Mediation Assessment Information Meeting (MIAM) before they are able to issue financial or children act proceedings at court.
In reality, although the government is making efforts to keep disputes out of the court and promote mediation, the success will hinge on whether parties are actually ready and prepared to engage in the process. Sitting face to face with an ex-partner can in many circumstances be emotionally very difficult. There is often one party who may feel overpowered or uncomfortable which will inhibit sensible and balanced negotiations.
The BBC will be airing a programme tonight ‘Mr v Mrs- call the mediator’ following three separate couples as they meet face to face with a mediator in an attempt to resolving outstanding issues in dispute. It is encouraging to see the BBC promoting awareness about mediation to educate and provide useful information about mediation. However, again, in our experience, as family law solicitors while we are keen to support parties who express a desire to attend mediation it is very important to remember that any agreement reached during mediation is not legally binding nor enforceable. Only an order made by the court to reflect an agreement reached between parties will be binding in the eyes of the law.