Mediation has been around in the family law world since the mid 1980’s. As it is not a new concept, it is surprising it has taken almost 40 years to really hit headlines following its use by high profile figures, most recently Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas.
Mediation has numerous benefits, which should really make it the first consideration when couples separate. It tends to be the most cost effective of the ‘non court–based’ options, as the parties are meeting the cost of one individual – the mediator – rather than both engaging a solicitor. Mediation generally proceeds more quickly, with meetings held 2-3 weeks apart at an average of 4-6 meetings in total, meaning the process can be completed within a handful of months. Its most significant benefit is the opportunity it affords parties to work together to formulate an outcome that suits them or their family. The emphasis is very much on collaboration and cooperation, which supports and fosters more cordial future relations. Where children are involved, this is key as parents will have an ongoing relationship for many years to come.
Another benefit, which may have had a significant bearing on the path that Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas chose to take, is the privacy mediation provides. In the UK the media cannot attend placement or adoptions hearings, or financial hearings where settlement is discussed, and can be excluded in other scenarios – often to protect a child’s identity. Despite this, information or court documents are still leaked. The press also often seems to know when a famous person’s divorce is ‘in court’. There is also a lack of consistency in the English court regarding whether the media can report on ‘divorce battles’ or not. All of this can be avoided if mediation is the path chosen.
Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner conducted their mediation in America, where the rules on cameras in the court room and the approach to an open trial is far less restrictive than in England & Wales. Allowing the cameras in is viewed as enhancing the credibility of justice, and year-on-year courts and judges are using social media more with few having issues with privacy; a common concern in the UK. Federal courts are also public institutions, and with rare exception, members of the media and public can enter any courthouse and courtroom, with journalists having the same access to courthouses and court records as other members of the public. Had they litigated in either country, it is likely that little would have remained private in the end. Mediation proved not only successful but enabled them to participate in a discreet process, avoiding further publicity and hopefully preserving their parenting relationship.
It is hoped that such a high-profile success story will help bolster mediation further for divorcing or separating couples, or at least ensure it is on their radar when they consider how to address aspects of their separation, be that financial or child-related. Mediation really has much to offer everyone, not just those in the public eye.
By Grace Parker-White, Partner and Accredited Hybrid Mediator, Stevens & Bolton LLP