Mediation Week is an annual national awareness week, aiming to raise the profile of mediation as a form of dispute resolution for divorcing couples. This year, the week runs from 22nd – 26th January.
Mediation is way of finding a solution to issues that arise between divorcing couples. For instance, when a couple is struggling to come to an agreement on certain issues, for example, child arrangements, financial settlements or what to do with property a mediator can help to guide the parties within discussions to come to an amicable agreement.
A couple can take part in mediation sessions whilst other processes are ongoing, for example if their divorce has already gone to court and is a highly effective tool to smooth over a difficult process and hopefully reach a conclusion more efficiently, effectively and with costs kept to a minimum.
There are a whole host of benefits that mediation presents for couples going through the divorce process, and a variety of different formats for use in individual situations:
- Traditional Mediation – the parties sit together with a third-party, independent mediator and work through their differences,
- Online Mediation – similar to traditional mediation except it is held over online video conferencing, meaning geographical or physical obstacles can be removed or lessened,
- Shuttle Mediation – the mediator moves between the separated parties as they are not in the same room,
- Hybrid Mediation – similar to shuttle mediation, but each party has their lawyer present in discussions,
- Child-inclusive Mediation – the mediator meets with the child/children of the couple (usually the child must be at least 10 years old), separately to their parents, and talks with them about their needs and wants.
It is important to remember that not all mediators offer all types of mediation, and mediators do not necessarily have to be legally trained. Interestingly, however some lawyers are trained and accredited mediators adding another feather to their cap.
The most well-known mediation format is traditional, in-person. However, for some couples, this arrangement is unsuitable, potentially for safeguarding reasons, for example if there has been domestic abuse.
In such cases, hybrid mediation is a more appropriate option. Hybrid mediation is less widely known but has been gaining popularity recently for use in high conflict cases, or where there are concerns about a couple being in the same room (or virtual room).
Hybrid mediation draws on practices from civil and commercial mediation as clients attend sessions with their lawyer. This gives them access to immediate legal advice as the mediator moves between the parties. In these cases, the mediator can hold confidences (except in matters of financial disclosure, such as the revelation of an asset). Other professionals can be brought in, too, such as financial advisors.
As with mediation in general, hybrid mediation can be a highly effective way to reach a conclusion to the negotiations in a less acrimonious way and allows each party to feel confident and informed throughout the process.
Mediation Week is a great opportunity to draw attention to the multiple benefits of using mediation as a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). It is generally considered more cost-effective and saves time, as it reduces the need for lengthy court battles. Although some couples will have mediation sessions alongside litigation, it can reduce the likelihood of reaching a final hearing.
It is flexible and confidential, hopefully making parties feel more comfortable in sharing their thoughts on potential settlement options. What’s said in mediation stays in mediation – if the couple are unable to reach an agreement through the sessions and the divorce goes to court, what they have said cannot be repeated in proceedings.
It must be noted, however, that mediation is not always appropriate. Cases where there is severe conflict, an extreme imbalance of power or serious abuse, may need alternative intervention.
Ultimately, mediation can be used to help couples through one of the most difficult times in their lives. The various options for formats, the assistance of professionals and the inherent collaborative nature can set couples up for their futures as individuals and encourage positive relationships going forward whilst helping them to come to conclusions on difficult and emotionally taxing subjects.