Family mediation is a process where people in conflict about their relationship, separation, divorce or child custody meet with a neutral professional who helps them find ways to settle their differences. It is used to resolve disputes between married and non-married couples who live together, de facto or separated parents, grandparents who share custody of children, siblings, extended family members, step-parents, domestic violence victims, estate planning and business issues.
Unlike traditional litigation, the focus in mediation is on finding mutually beneficial solutions. It is a less adversarial and more respectful way to resolve your dispute and will often take significantly less time than court proceedings. In addition, it is typically 20-50% cheaper than litigation.
In the end, a negotiated agreement will be documented in writing and signed by both parties. It will contain terms that address all aspects of the conflict, including custody and visitation, property division, parenting schedules and support. It is often prepared with the assistance of a lawyer. If your dispute involves children, it will also be reviewed by the mediator in private meetings with both of you and the children (with the mediator’s consent).
One of the benefits of a mediated settlement is that both parties maintain control over the outcome of their case. The terms of the agreed solution will be binding on you and your former partner, so both parties must agree to the terms before they are finalised. In the rare instance that no resolution is possible, the matter will be returned to court.
Mediation is a good option for families, particularly those with children, because it allows the parties to discuss their problems in a safe environment, without the pressures and hostility of a courtroom. It is particularly important for separating or divorcing parents, as the constant fighting and blaming that characterise many family law cases predicts years of expensive and stressful litigation and significant emotional damage to the entire family.
In mediation, the goal is to minimise harm to children and to help the parties come up with a workable plan for their futures. This plan will be based on the specific needs and circumstances of the couple, including their financial and other resources, their lifestyle, and the children’s best interests.
The mediator will work with the parties to identify the legal and extra-legal issues in their conflict, facilitate discussion and negotiations between the parties and their lawyers, and assist the parties to find suitable solutions. The mediation process may take place in a single session, or in sessions spread over the course of several days. The mediation will also include private, confidential and separate ‘caucuses’ between the mediator and each of the parties (or their lawyers) to discuss any matters that cannot be resolved in the main meeting.
Before you attend mediation, it is a good idea to get plenty of sleep the night before. The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be to think clearly and communicate effectively. If you are having trouble settling your differences with your ex-partner, talk to your local solicitor, who can advise you what options are available for you.