How to Prepare for Family Mediation
In this blog and as part of Family Mediation Week 2024, FLiP Director and Accredited Mediator Charlotte Symes offers her top tips and guidance on how best to prepare for family mediation.
Do I need a mediator?
I am sometimes asked why a couple would need a mediator if they were aiming for an amicable divorce and don’t have any issues between them. While mediation can be a safe space to have a managed discussion of challenging topics, where you may have different perspectives to your partner/spouse, it is also a great way to support separating couples to start the process and progress it (this can be a difficult first step on your own), supported by your mediator. The mediator will ensure that you have a balanced discussion and that you cover all the topics you need to (such as divorce, living arrangements, division of finances, child arrangements and any expert advice arising from those areas). It can be helpful to have a mediator present in those conversations even for the most amicable couples.
How do I choose a mediator?
Many people understandably feel nervous when deciding on a mediator, particularly if the process and/or mediator has been suggested by their partner/spouse. Try to remember you and your partner/spouse are both the mediator’s clients. Impartiality is one of, if not the most fundamental principle of being a mediator. You should still do your research by looking at the mediator’s profile online and checking if they are accredited with the Family Mediation Council on the FMC website. Either of you can put forward suggestions and I would recommend a shortlist of 3-4 if you are the one putting forward names, to alleviate any concerns your partner/spouse might have.
The individual meeting
Before you start the joint sessions, you must first meet your mediator individually for a ‘Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting’, which lasts up to 1 hour. This is an opportunity to have a confidential, one-to-one conversation with your mediator so do prepare questions and use it as an opportunity to raise any concerns you have. In this meeting the mediator will also be checking that mediation is the right process for you. In that meeting I tell my clients that there is an expectation from me that they will be open-minded in mediation and willing to be creative and generate ideas and proposals. This is an important part of preparation for mediation, and it can be difficult, particularly for those people who are in court proceedings and very much in the mindset of evidence and case building. Your mediator will also want to be assured that you will be able to express yourself freely in the mediation sessions and that it is a process in which you will feel safe.
I am often asked whether you need to meet with a solicitor and when is the right time to do that. There is no right answer to this. You may want to take legal advice before your first joint session as part of your preparation for mediation. You may want the support of your solicitor through the mediation process. Some people prefer to discuss proposals in mediation and then run those past a solicitor at the end of the mediation process. Remember nothing discussed in mediation is legally binding so you always have the option to discuss ideas and proposals with a solicitor after each mediation session.
How many sessions will we need?
Mediation is flexible: it may be that you come to your first joint session and that is all you need. Sometimes it is only in that session that you realise there are some aspects you overlooked. Some clients start and finish in mediation. Others might need some intervention of the court first and then come to mediation when they are ready; mediation is always voluntary. It is also important to be aware that if mediation doesn’t go as planned, there are other out of court processes available to you, so don’t put undue pressure on yourself for mediation to succeed.
Importance of individual therapy
Preparation for mediation also requires a focus on your own wellbeing. It is helpful if you are having individual therapy while you are going through a separation or divorce. It is a difficult time and even if this is something you have never done or never thought about, I find clients who are in therapy are able to better manage the decision making required in mediation. It is also likely to make your mediation sessions more cost effective as you are giving yourself a separate space to find support through the emotional impact of separation/divorce.
Assuming you then progress to your first joint mediation session, you should prepare for it both mentally and practically. You should think about the topics that are important to you as you and your partner/spouse will be setting your own agenda for the meeting, with the help of your mediator. If there are more urgent topics then those should be discussed first. Your mediator will guide you as to whether your agenda is realistic for the time available. My sessions are usually 1.5 hours and never more than 2 hours. From experience I find that is the length of time where I get the best out of people. Try not to set an expectation of where you need to be by the end of your first session. Even the most amicable couples may be surprised at how emotionally demanding a joint mediation session can be. You need to be focused but also patient. Be aware you and your partner/spouse may also have different experiences of mediation and be respectful of each other.
I carry out mediations online and face to face. Preparation for an online session is perhaps more important as you need to carve out a break before and after the session. Make sure you will be somewhere private and will not be disturbed. Before your joint session, think about where you and your partner/spouse will be, if you are still living in the same home. Equally, think about what you will do after the session: if it is online then one of you may want to go for a walk if you are living together, or if in person then you may want to leave separately (this can be managed by the mediator if in person).
Giving yourselves credit
With some preparation you should go into your mediation sessions feeling confident and optimistic that you and your spouse/partner have voluntarily committed to a cost-efficient amicable process, where you and your partner/spouse are in control, and which supports communication between separating couples and the creation of a co-parenting relationship, where there are children.
Charlotte Symes is a director and accredited mediator at Family Law in Partnership. Charlotte mediates clients on all issues, including those relating to finances and children. As a French speaker Charlotte has the expertise to work with French clients and on mediations with a French element.
To contact Charlotte or any of our other experienced family mediators, please contact Wendy Hoare, FLiP’s mediation coordinator via the “contact us” button below.