I have been a Family Law solicitor for over a decade and an All Issues Family Mediator for almost 5 years. Having experience of both approaches, there can be no doubt that mediation can resolve conflict and foster a positive co-parenting relationship post separation in a way that adversarial court litigation will never achieve. Mediation is less confrontational, less stressful, less expensive and less damaging in every respect and it offers couples an opportunity to move on from their relationship, to create their future and to continue to work together constructively, to the immense benefit of their children.
Will Mediation help me reconcile my marriage/relationship?
I quite often see couples who end up getting back together. Sometimes, when I meet with them individually, they will both tell me that they want to give their relationship another try, but they haven’t been able to express this to each other. When I pass this message on, I explain that if there is a chance for a reconciliation of the relationship, mediation is not the right forum. Mediation is intended to provide a safe space for discussion about how a couple are going to separate; where they are going to live, the arrangements for the children and the finances. I work closely with family therapists and marriage guidance counsellors who are better placed to help couples who don’t wish to separate and I will signpost clients to the right professionals to assist them reach their goals.
What if I can’t face sitting in the same room as my ex-partner?
I will always meet each client individually before arranging a joint mediation session. Part of this process is to enable the mediator to assess whether or not mediation is suitable for that couple. The vast majority of clients will say that they would prefer not to sit in a room with their ex-partner. What the mediator needs to assess is how best to manage that issue. Are there any safeguarding concerns or is one client potentially at risk? Occasionally, Mediation just isn’t suitable, but in some cases, the risk can be managed on a shuttle basis, with each client in a separate room and the mediator working with each of them to convey the words of the other, as best they can. However, if there are no safeguarding concerns, but the clients simply feel apprehensive or anxious about a joint session, the mediator must decide what format is going to work best for this couple?
My view is that the best way to mediate is face to face. Only then can the clients truly communicate because so much of human communication is non verbal and, although in a shuttle situation, I will do my utmost to convey the words of the other client, their tone of voice, eye contact and body language is inevitably lost in translation. Mediation is intended to foster good communication and therefore, if it is safe to do so, I will always recommend face to face mediation because the communication that can be achieved (even where there has been a great deal of conflict), can be amazing.
Will Mediation work if my ex-partner is very controlling?
It is not at all unusual for one client to feel that the other has controlled them during the relationship, emotionally, financially or otherwise. For professionals dealing with relationship breakdown on a daily basis, this is something we see a great deal of. One of the key roles of a good Mediator is to redress any imbalances that they find. Sometimes one client will be more communicative or even domineering in the discussion, while the other is more quiet or reserved. The Mediator should enable each client to have a voice, managing the discussion so that each has an opportunity to put their point across. Acknowledgement is really important so that both clients feel that they have been heard and the ability to rephrase what has been said, so that it is fully understood is another pivotal skill in the Mediator’s armoury. Very often one client will have a full understanding of all the finances while the other has no understanding at all. The Mediator will take time to explain the complexities of the family finances so that both clients can make informed decisions about their future. In this situation, Mediation offers an opportunity for the less powerful partner to find their confidence. It can be a very empowering exercise and can open the door to their new beginning, post separation.
Family Mediation week runs 22-26 January and is organised by the Family Mediators Association. You can find our more here
Article written by Juliet Mayhew