From April 2014 it is a legal requirement that any applicant in Family Proceedings brought before the court will attend a MIAM (mediation information assessment meeting) with a mediator to determine whether the case is suitable for mediation rather than taking up expensive court time. Marcia Mediation in Life believes that by far the majority of cases should be suitable.
First of all, both parties decide if they want to attend. If both have already decided that family mediation is the best option, they contact their chosen mediator to find out more about the process and make an initial appointment.
In cases where only one party has researched mediation upfront, it can be possible to hold a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting or MIAM with that party alone, which can be done over the phone if necessary.
The mediator will discuss the family mediation process in detail and can then contact the other party to find out if they want to try mediation too. Even if they do not, the mediator can still help by providing the required paperwork for the originating party to make an application to the court.
In any case, you cannot legally make a court application until you have attended a MIAM in person or by phone, and an accredited mediator will always assess your case honestly in order to decide whether, in their opinion, mediation is a suitable way to proceed.
Family mediation aims to be fast and low-stress compared to dragging proceedings through court and negotiating via solicitors. Most family mediation cases are completed within the first three sessions, unlike court cases that can drag on for months and even years.
A typical court case can cost in the region of £8,000 to £10,000, compared with mediation sessions at £700 each including the paperwork you need to get your divorce finalised by the courts.
In most cases, mediation will be the cheapest way to divorce. You are legally required to at least consider mediation as an option, and the process is designed to minimise stress, cost and delay, for the quickest, cheapest divorce possible.
As standard, you can expect mediation to cost about £2,100, at a rate of £700 for each of three mediation meetings. You can keep the costs down by divorcing more amicably – if you are unable to agree quickly on the terms of your divorce, more sessions may be needed.
The more mediation meetings your divorce requires, the more the costs will increase. But even in these cases, mediation will still generally be much cheaper than making those same negotiations in court and running up solicitors’ fees as well.
Remember too that mediators are on your side and have the best interests of both parties at heart. Because of this, divorce mediation is not just cheaper, but also faster and less emotionally fraught, so that the total benefits are not just financial, but practical in other ways and psychological too.
If both parties are willing to divorce, the process is typically faster, cheaper and less stressful, as there’s less to negotiate; however, it’s still important to make the appropriate legal arrangements to separate your finances, assets and any parental or familial responsibilities.
By doing this upfront when things are still amicable, you ensure that both parties know their rights and responsibilities in the future, especially in case you find it more difficult to remain friends once your divorce is finalised.
A mediator can work with you to draw up documentation you can take into court to get your divorce or separation rubber-stamped, taking into account all of the necessary legal technicalities so there are no unexpected shocks or costs later on.
The mediation process typically takes three sessions at around £700 each, including the paperwork. In more complicated cases extra sessions might be needed, but if you are certain that both parties are ready to proceed and that you will be able to agree the terms of your separation quite easily, then your costs should not be much more than the £2,100 total for three mediation sessions.
For most people, mediation is a better way to negotiate a divorce. It can take place in more comfortable surroundings, with more amicable discussions, and without running up the costs involved with court fees and solicitors billing you by the hour.
However, it is not mandatory to proceed with mediation. The only mandatory part is that you must at least consider using mediation at the start of your separation proceedings. Usually you prove you have done this by attending a MIAM, or Mediation Information Assessment Meeting.
This can be held by telephone if it’s not convenient for you to attend in person initially, and it is unlikely that you will be allowed to apply to the divorce courts unless and until you have the paperwork to show that you have attended a MIAM.
You and your partner can attend different MIAMs or have separate telephone calls, so if things are already difficult, you don’t have to be at the same meeting. Importantly if you are a victim of domestic abuse, if your safety is at risk or if you or your partner is bankrupt, you may be exempt from attending a MIAM. If you’re not sure if these or other exemptions apply to you, ask a mediator.
Mediation puts at your disposal an individual who has your best interests at heart, aiming for a fast, low-cost and low-stress resolution to your case through mutual agreement and with all parties retaining as much dignity as possible along the way.
The alternative – allowing solicitors to take a combative approach to negotiations that can end with a judge imposing life-changing decisions on you and your children – is in most cases clearly not preferable.
By negotiating through mediation, you can work together, even in relationships that have completely broken down, to make more positive future arrangements.
If you decide to go ahead with mediation, your mediator will decide – with the agreement of both parties – a date, time and venue for your first meeting to take place.
The first session typically lasts for 90 minutes and after each meeting, your mediator will draft notes that show any agreements made about finances, children and other family matters.
At this point you can decide whether another session is needed and use these notes to guide you when deciding what points you want to raise at the next meeting.
You’ll need to get your divorce finalised by a judge, so it’s not possible to complete divorce proceedings without involving the divorce court; however, the mediation process can significantly reduce the amount of time spent in court and remove the acrimonious negotiations and solicitors’ fees.
Mediation takes place at a mutually agreeable time and date, with all involved parties working together to achieve the best possible outcome, under the guidance of an accredited experienced family mediator.
Your mediator can include the views of your children or extended family who act as caregivers, such as grandparents, and again this takes place in friendly and comfortable surroundings, rather than requiring them to attend court.
At the end of the process you will receive documents that you can present to a judge who can then finalise your divorce – in some cases this can be done without you attending a court hearing in person, so while the divorce courts must give you that final rubber stamp, you might never need to attend court in person in order to get it.
Divorces and dissolutions of civil partnerships are finalised by a judge, but you can avoid time spent in court by negotiating the terms of your separation through a mediator and then taking your Memorandum of Understanding into the court for the final approval.
You are legally required to consider mediation by attending an initial MIAM or Mediation Information Assessment Meeting, and this should help you to understand more about how a mediator can reduce the amount of time you need to spend in court or negotiating through solicitors.
In as little as three mediation sessions in amicable separations, your mediator can help both parties to agree on terms that are then written down as a Memorandum of Understanding. This is presented to a judge who can approve the final separation based on those terms.
So while you cannot avoid court completely when divorcing or dissolving a civil partnership, mediation can massively cut down the amount of time you have to spend in front of the judge, and the final approval can sometimes be granted without you attending in person.
Nobody can force you to attend mediation. If you are determined that you would rather negotiate your divorce in court, using solicitors to represent each party, then you are entitled to do so – even if your partner wants to use mediation.
Mediation requires both parties to be voluntary participants. Court is the fallback option but there are other mediation methods to consider first. For example, if you are reluctant to be in the same room as your partner, there is a process known as shuttle mediation where your mediator literally passes notes and messages back and forth between both parties who remain in separate rooms.
This is a practical and effective way to make progress in some of the most difficult and emotionally strained divorce negotiations, and is usually much more preferable than facing each other in court with solicitors who each represent only one party, rather than a mediator who will work to achieve the best outcome for all concerned.
Finally if you don’t feel able to attend a mediation session, let your mediator know as soon as possible – don’t just fail to turn up. It may be possible to reschedule and some discussions such as the initial MIAM can take place over the phone, but you must let your mediator know if you want to move or cancel a meeting that has already been scheduled.
At any time if either party is unhappy with the progress made via mediation, they can choose to leave the process and go via the courts instead.
However, it’s worth remembering that the opposite is not also true – once a judgment is imposed upon you by a court, it is legally binding and you cannot then choose to go to mediation to find a more acceptable alternative.
Because of this, it is almost always better to go to mediation first and attempt an amicable resolution, while keeping the courts as a last resort if negotiations break down or you encounter an impasse that even an experienced accredited family mediator cannot resolve.
At the end of the divorce mediation process, your agreed terms will be drawn up by your mediator as a Memorandum of Understanding. Both parties will receive a copy and you can take this into court to show to a judge, who will then typically finalise your divorce based on those agreed terms.
Using an experienced accredited mediator makes it much more likely that the Memorandum of Understanding will be approved in court, which should make it faster to finalise your divorce once the mediation process is completed.
Where the negotiations involve money or sizeable assets like property, you may want to consult a solicitor to have the terms of your Memorandum of Understanding drawn up as a legally binding Consent Order. Again, negotiating via mediation first will generally make this faster, cheaper and easier compared with starting out through solicitors from day one.
The total time taken to complete your divorce depends on getting your terms rubber-stamped by the courts; however, from start to finish a typical divorce can be completed in a matter of weeks through mediation, compared with several months or more when using the courts for the whole process.
A pioneer for mediation since commencing legal practice as a family solicitor some seventeen years ago, Marcia has worked exclusively as an independent mediator since 2004, focussing initially on family mediation, and latterly on work place mediation.
Marcia’s accreditations include Family Mediation and she is a qualified child consultant practitioner. Her associations include the Professional Mediators Association and Resolution.