Deciding what to do with your assets can be difficult and challenging for separating couples. Whilst some may consider Court to be the only option if you cannot agree, couples are being urged to consider mediation to settle disputes if it is appropriate. The Family Procedure Rules require couples to have attempted mediation (or another form of alternative dispute resolution) before filing an application at Court, and a Judge could even order couples to attend mediation during proceedings. Whilst mediation is a voluntary process, when faced with legal costs of alternative solutions, it can be a successful tool in helping separated couples reach a solution quickly and amicably.
A mediator is a neutral third party, and will be unable to provide legal advice. They will facilitate communication between the two of you in an effort to resolve conflict.
Mediation will always start with separate initial meetings with your mediator, known as a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). These meetings enable the mediator to decide whether mediation is suitable, and are an opportunity for you to ask any questions about the mediation process. If mediation is not considered suitable, your mediator will explain the reasons why. Even if mediation is not suitable, your mediator may consider hybrid mediation (where you are each joined by your solicitor) to be more appropriate.
Once you have both had your MIAM, arrangements can then be made for your first joint session. Ahead of this first joint session, your mediator will most likely ask you to collate some documents for your financial disclosure.
In your first joint session, you will exchange your financial disclosure, so it is important to bring this with you and have this as organised as possible. The mediator will most likely set out ground rules, and ask each of you what you both want to discuss. The first meeting is usually focused around the exchange of financial information, to ensure each person is comfortable with what has been disclosed, and whether any questions need to be raised or if any disclosure is missing.
Once you are both comfortable with the financial disclosure and have a suitable understanding of the others financial circumstances, the negotiation will usually begin. It is not uncommon for this to take between one and three sessions, to ensure that all options are explored and for people to take legal advice in between if needed. As your mediator cannot give you legal advice on any agreement reached, obtaining legal advice alongside the Mediation sessions is often encouraged. This can lead to the next mediation session being more productive as a result.
Your mediator will be unable to confirm if any suggestion made is the correct one. Instead, they will most likely plot out the ‘net effect’ of any suggestion, so both parties can see how this would look in reality and whether that then seems fair.
Once an agreement has been reached, it is vital that the Memorandum of Understanding (recording the terms of your agreement) is passed to a solicitor to ensure this is written into a legally binding agreement. On its own, the Memorandum of Understanding agreement does not conclude the financial arrangements. Following resolution of your matrimonial finances in mediation it is vital that the agreement reached is drawn up into a Court Order, known as a Consent Order. This guarantees that the financial agreement is legally binding.
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We are dedicated to resolving matters as amicably as possible and every solicitor in our family team are members of Resolution which means we have a duty to reduce conflict wherever possible.