Mediation and dispute resolution
During mediation, a trained and independent mediator helps you and your child’s other parent or carer to work out an agreement about issues such as:
- arrangements for your child after you separate – such as where the child will live and how much time they will spend with each parent;
- child maintenance payments;
- finances (for example, what to do with your house, savings, pensions, and debts); and
- any temporary arrangements that can be looked at again if or when circumstances change.
Many people find that mediation is less stressful, less time-consuming, and much less expensive than going through the family court. It is for these reasons that in most cases, the court will expect you to consider mediation seriously before going to court. A mediator helps you and your child’s other parent or carer without taking anyone’s ‘side’.
Mediation is free for people who qualify for legal aid. You can see if you qualify by visiting Gov.uk. You can also search for mediators that offer online services on the Family Mediation Council website.
When it is safe to take place (in most cases where domestic abuse is not alleged or a feature of your relationship) a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) is usually required before you can go to a family court. Your wellbeing and safety are always considered carefully before any meeting. Where at least one party is eligible, legal aid will cover the costs to attend the MIAM.
Many mediators normally offer a service for the child to be heard and included in mediation. Some mediation services offer ‘Child Inclusive Mediation’ by video link. You can talk this through with your mediator who will advise you whether either of these options are possible and advisable.
Family Mediation Voucher Scheme
The family mediation voucher scheme is a time-limited scheme designed to support people who may be able to resolve their disagreements or disputes outside of the court process.
More information about mediation
Mediation works best when parents or carers want to find a way forward to put their child first and sort things out for themselves. People who use mediation sessions to resolve their disagreements usually come to an agreement sooner, with less conflict and at less cost than those who use solicitors and go to court. Family mediation can also reduce ongoing conflict or the chances of conflict happening again in the future.
Unless it is unsafe to do so (such as when domestic abuse is alleged or present), you are required to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting before you can start court proceedings. This session can help you decide whether mediation is right for you. Using mediation does not stop you from going to court later if you still feel you need to.
Prices vary but if you are on a low income you may qualify for legal aid. The number of meetings you will need depends on the complexity of the issues that need to be resolved. Resolving issues about arrangements for your children can take one or two meetings. If you need to discuss property and financial issues as well, you may need three to five meetings.
Mediators can give you legal information, but they will not give you legal advice. You can seek legal advice from another source before finalising an agreement you have reached in mediation.
Agreements made in mediation are not legally binding. However, experience shows that agreements made voluntarily by parents are more likely to last. This approach to resolving disagreements also helps to improve understanding, restore communication, and rebuild trust. If necessary, agreements made in mediation can be used as the basis of a court order. In the case of property and financial issues on divorce, a memorandum of understanding produced in mediation can be used as the basis of a ‘consent order’.
Although the mediator will provide encouragement, you will not be pressured into agreeing anything and it is up to you to make the final decision. Everyone involved in mediation is mindful of the potential for coercive control in the relationship to spill over into discussions and negotiations about arrangements for your child following separation or divorce. If you are discussing property and financial issues, you are advised to obtain legal advice on the proposals before finalising them.
Usually, only the mediator and the child’s parents or carers are present at meetings. Occasionally, it is helpful to have a supporter, or a legal advisor present at a meeting, but both parents would need to agree to anyone else joining the meeting.
Some mediation services offer the child the opportunity to be included in the process. Children tell us that they feel better if they have an opportunity to have their say about the decisions that are about them even if the final decision is not what they wanted.
It is not unusual to feel that agreement is impossible, especially if your previous attempts have failed. However, mediation is a different approach, and the presence of a trained mediator can make a big difference in the kind of conversation you have about your disagreements. Mediation can work where other attempts or methods have been tried and failed.
Mediators are trained to make sure the views of everyone taking part are heard and understood. This is at the heart of mediation and the foundation of successful mediation. Mediators do not take sides and will not be influenced if one parent is a better talker or is more confident or more forceful in saying what they want than the other parent.
Mediation is voluntary, so no one can be forced to attend or participate. However, the mediator will write to you or your child’s other parent or carer explaining the purpose of the meeting and offer to meet you alone to discuss your point of view and the options. This can be helpful for parents who feel reluctant or worried about using the service if it means meeting together.
For further information and advice about family mediation, visit Family Mediation Council (FMC).
Mediation is more successful if those involved approach it with an open mind, are willing to listen and able to compromise. Parents and carers who are open-minded and listen are more able to reach an agreed settlement that works for everyone and especially for your child.
It is important to do your homework before mediation and come prepared with several options. Write down a few ideas and proposals so you can refer to them in the mediation session.
What children need is often different from what parents or carers need or want. Make sure you understand your child’s needs so you can stay focused on them and not on each other or what has happened between you.
Family mediation is not the place to focus on the other adult. The process is likely to break down if you and your child’s other parent or carer just argue about who said what or who did what. Mediation is not the place to revisit the conflicts in your relationship. It is there to find solutions and the best way forward after divorce or separation – for you and your child.
If you are open to different options and willing to compromise, you are more likely to reach a positive solution for you and your child.
Focus on your child’s needs rather than your own. This can include:
- acknowledging that children have different needs depending on their age, temperament, and stage of development;
- acknowledging the other parent’s strengths and what they have to offer your child; and
- accepting that children benefit from time with both parents, unless there are exceptional reasons not to.
You might find it helpful to take the following to your mediation meeting:
- An acceptance that ongoing conflict is bad for you and for your child.
- A proposal for where your child will live and a time-sharing plan.
- A calendar of school holidays, work schedules, and a schedule for your child’s activities.
- A flexible approach to finding the right solution and way forward.
- A positive attitude that you will be able to sort things out between you and for your child.
If you want some help with making arrangements, try our online Parenting Plan. This enables you to review each other’s suggestions online, so you do not need to meet up with your ex-partner when you want to make changes.
There is a network of approved Family Mediators across England who are there to help you to reach decisions about things that are important to you and your family. Mediators can help you find a solution to your disagreements, plan for the future and agree on what will work best for you and your child without having to go through the court process.
Mediation provides you with the space and time to think about what is important for your child, for you and the whole family. You can work out how arrangements for your child will work best and think about what is going to be important for your child as they grow up and look back.
If you would like to talk to a local mediator to find out more, you can find your local services at Family Mediation Council.