The family mediation process is designed to help improve communication between people who have decided to separate, or who have already separated It is not designed to help couples who are hoping to mend their relationship. On the other hand, two people can use family mediation to discuss whether they should now be considering separation or divorce and, if so, what should happen next. In a number of situations the mediator may suggest relationship counselling or other forms of help and support, for example if a couple want to improve their relationship after separation or if they are now reconsidering the decision to separate.
Counselling or therapy
The mediator is an independent, impartial negotiator Many mediators are qualified counsellors but in the mediation room that is not their job. Family mediators usually spend some time reviewing issues from the past that are important to the clients but their main focus is on the present and the future, rather than on the past. Equally, family mediation can be emotional and family mediators will encourage clients to talk honestly about their feelings but the main focus of mediation sessions is on practical arrangements rather than emotion. If the mediator believes that counselling could help someone in the family, the mediator may be able to provide information about how to contact a counsellor or counselling service.
A substitute for legal advice
Mediators are able to provide clients with a great deal of legal information but they cannot advise either of you about your particular legal situation. Many family mediators are qualified lawyers but in the mediation room that is not their job. Legal advisers have individual clients and are very clearly on the side of their client, whereas mediators are required to provide impartial and balanced help to both of you. Mediators usually spend some time explaining the legal context, setting out the general legal principles that apply to the issues you have raised, but will not tell you what they think will happen if your case goes to court. Family mediators do not concentrate entirely on the legal solutions to problems but instead explore what might work for everyone in the family and focus on the things that matter most to you. Your mediator will suggest that you each take independent legal advice before you make a final decision because it is important that you understand all the options open to you before choosing one.
An opportunity to impose views upon the other party to the mediation
The mediator will make sure that each of you has an opportunity to explain what you think and feel and that each of you has the opportunity to consider all the important factors before you decide what you want to do. If the mediator believes that one or both of you should have more time to consider all the options open to you or more information to understand those options, the mediator will make sure that this happens before continuing with the mediation.
An opportunity to abuse or bully participants to the mediation process
Various safeguards and checks are in place and these ensure that mediation sessions are carried out in the safest situation possible. A mediator may stop the mediation if there is abuse or bullying and will do so if one person persistently behaves in way that is intimidating or distressing.
Nothing agreed in mediation is in itself legally binding, or even something that can be discussed in any future legal proceedings. This means that you can discuss all the options freely without worrying that you are going to commit yourself to something that you later realise will not suit you. However, you can both, after taking advice, enter into a legally binding agreement based upon the proposals arrived at within the mediation process. Usually, the outcome of mediation is put into a legally binding format through solicitors.
Unlike the court process, where the judge makes the decisions for the family, in mediation you are completely involved in and responsible for the decision making process. If you choose mediation rather than litigation, you are in charge of the details of the proposal, indeed there will only be a proposal if both of you agree that there should be. In a mediation a whole range of options are open to you that are not available in the court process and you can of course make use of your own expertise about your family situation that the court may not have or may not choose to make use of.