In family mediation the parties engage the assistance of one (or occasionally two) impartial mediators. The mediators have no authority to make decisions but they can use their skills to help the parties resolve their issues by a negotiated agreement.
The mediator will usually meet the parties together (although, in some circumstances, they may see them separately) and will try to help them to clarify and resolve their issues on a basis they find mutually acceptable. Depending on the issues, this involves them finding out all the relevant facts (such as financial data) and generally helping the parties to communicate and make decisions. The mediator may give information but will not advise the couple on what terms they should agree; and may help them to examine different solutions but will not try to press the one which the mediator may prefer.
Historically, the mediation process in the UK was called “conciliation” but the terms mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably.
A few points may be noted about mediation:
- It is, in essence, an assisted form of negotiation, leaving responsibility for decision-making in the hands of the parties;
- It is not the same as solicitors adopting a conciliatory approach in traditional negotiation;
- Solicitors acting for the parties do not ordinarily participate directly in the mediation process but can and generally do provide advice to their clients outside of the mediation process and before any decisions are finalised;
- Mediation may be used for couples who are co-operative but where one party is psychologically stronger or there has been a history of domestic abuse it is not recommended.