When a relationship breaks down the parting of the ways is often painful and difficult.  That’s where mediation comes into its own.

With Family Mediation Week taking place from 22-26th January, it’s a good point to explore the role of mediation in smoothing the path to the end of a relationship.

Mediation won’t be appropriate in every case, but it can be very successful for many separating couples.  For mediation to be successful, both parties need to be willing to get involved and it’s an excellent way to open the lines of communication.  It offers an unbiased person who is trained to help you arrive at an agreement on all the matters relating to ending the relationship.  This includes property, finances and, if children are involved, the ongoing responsibilities for caring for them.

Before a case can go to court, there must have been either an attempt at a mediated agreement or a statement from a qualified mediator stating that mediation is not a suitable solution in the situation.  This may be for a wide range of reasons, from an inability for the couple to communicate without argument, to situations where one of them has been subject to controlling behaviour from the other.

What is a mediator?

A mediator is trained to manage the issues you bring to the process to get the best outcome for everyone.

Mediators can be legally qualified, but solicitor mediators may not mediate in cases where one of the parties is represented by anyone in the firm they work for.  This prevents bias or influence affecting the mediation process.  The mediator must be completely neutral.

A mediator is NOT a marriage guidance counsellor.  Although the process is similar the aim is to agree a way forward – apart – not to try to bring the couple back together.

What are the benefits of mediation?

The obvious advantage is that both parties agree on the issues and there are no horrid surprises further down the line.  It puts both of them in control.

The other big advantage is that it significantly reduces costs.  The court costs are reduced to the application fee only, with no expensive court case to fund.

Generally, the outcomes from mediation are more likely to be stuck to as they’re mutually agreed; as a result the long-term relationship will be more amicable.  Communication will be much better, especially with the children.

It’s also quicker than going through a formal legal process.  Agreement is often achieved in no more than two or three sessions rather than the many months that it can take without mediation.

Mediation can assist, not only with the matters that need to be settled as part of a divorce or separation, but also with issues such as ‘How do we tell the kids that Dad has a girlfriend?’

If your relationship is breaking down and you don’t want to enter a war zone, being open to mediation can make the transition much easier, as long as you’re both ready for it.