Every mediation will begin with an assessment meeting, sometimes known as a MIAM (which stands for Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting). Each person must attend one of these meetings before you can progress to mediation.
After the assessment meetings, if both of you and the mediator feel that mediation is suitable and would be safe for all concerned, you will move towards joint mediation sessions. The mediator will probably provide you with some further information ahead of a first session and may ask you to do some things in preparation. The mediator will also provide you with an Agreement to Mediate. This sets out how mediation works and, after checking with both of you that you understand what it says, you will be asked to sign this.
The specifics of mediation will depend on several things, including your particular situation, how your mediator practises, which model is being used etc. [See Terminology and FAQs]. Generally, you can expect the mediator to ask you what is important to discuss, e.g. what is worrying you right now, what ideas you have about the future etc. You may talk a little about what has gone wrong in the past, although the problems of the past are not the main focus of mediation.
The mediator will set the rules they need everyone to follow to make mediation effective, e.g. speaking and listening to each other with respect, working with the mediator to make sure that conflict and any strong emotions that emerge during the mediation don’t overwhelm the process. Most family mediators work in a relatively informal setting and provide clients with a relaxed and secure environment.
During the sessions, the mediator will record key pieces of information or ideas or particular options in a way that allows both of you to see what has been written and to comment on it. If you are meeting in person this might be a flip-chart – online meetings may have a whiteboard equivalent and screen sharing. You will be encouraged to ask questions; if you don’t understand something that is being said or written it is very important to say so – it is the mediator’s job to help. Your mediator will be keeping an eye on how you are feeling, but if you start to feel uncomfortable or worried about anything, you should let the mediator know.
The mediator will give you useful information about how to deal with financial issues, how to deal with children issues, relevant legal principles, the court process, court orders, and how to contact other agencies and specialists who may be able to help. If the two of you are able to identify some proposals that you think might work, the mediator will record those proposals in a confidential way, for you to turn into a legally binding agreement after getting legal advice.
At the end of the mediation process your mediator will explain to you how to obtain legal advice about any proposals the two of you have produced together and how you may convert them into a legally binding agreement and/or a court order. Proposals relating to children often do not need to be turned into a court order, but proposals relating to finances almost always should be.
If you have not been able to find any mutually acceptable proposals, your mediator will explain to you what your options are at this stage, including negotiation through other means, arbitration and court proceedings. Although the mediator cannot tell either of you what to do, they may make suggestions which they hope will help you move forward. For example that you consult with a tax or pensions specialist, or with a family lawyer, before making any decisions.
Even where mediation does not succeed, it may be able to help by giving you a better idea of what your family’s real issues and options are, and by giving each of you an opportunity to hear directly from the other person involved.