When relationships breakdown it’s common for people to seek legal advice, which can often be costly, particularly if things turn nasty and there are children and financial assets involved. A less stressful way to resolve your issues is mediation.
Satwinder Sahota from Sanders Witherspoon LLP explains the importance of a mediation-first approach to family law disputes.
What is mediation?
A process in which families can negotiate about arrangements for your children’s every day life, through the help of an unbiased third party is called mediation. Generally, a mediator does not tell parties what to do but helps parties reach their own agreements and improving their communication.
How does family mediation help?
Family mediation is generally less stressful than taking things to court, not to mention the amount of money you will be able to save.
It can help you make arrangements over parenting, property, and money while it keeps you in control of your family’s future with the best interests of your child as a priority.
Family mediation also helps you to move on quickly to the next stage of your lives and that agreements you make can be changed according to your situation.
Eligibility for free legal aid
If you are eligible for legal aid, you will be able to obtain free mediation and legal support—meaning mediation is often free if you qualify for legal aid. Although mediation may not be appropriate in cases such as domestic abuse. To know if you are qualified, you may check so on GOV.UK.
A Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting is often held before things are taken to court. Legal aid can cover the costs of both parties to attend mediation if at least one party is eligible.
The party applying to the court must arrange and attend the mediation sessions, with or without the other party (as it can take place separately or jointly).
Family mediation may not be free but it is definitely quicker and cheaper compared to going to court. For low-income parties, you will be able to get legal aid to pay for:
- The introductory meeting (applicable to both parties);
- One mediation session (applicable to both parties);
- More mediation sessions (applicable only to the party eligible for legal aid); and
- Solicitor assistance after mediation (e.g. to make your agreement legally binding).
If you’re not eligible for legal aid
The cost of mediation varies depending on where you live. As much as possible, look for the best price that suits you—keep in mind, though, the cheapest might not be the best.
You might pay less if you’re a low-income earner as some mediators are depending their fees or charges on how much you’re earning. To keep the costs down, try to settle and agree as much as you can with your ex-partner before starting. You can also agree on a fixed number of sessions with your mediator which will help you and your ex-partner to focus on getting a resolution as fast.
Choosing a mediator
First and foremost, ensure that you are using a mediator who is a member of the Family Mediation Council who adheres to a Code of Practice. It generally requires solicitors to adhere to a clear complaints procedure and to practice general principles of mediation in training and conduct standards.