Most divorce solicitors do not realise just how intimidating going to a first family mediation session can be. I certainly did not until a client likened it to his first day at school; you do not know where you are going or what you will be doing or saying when you get there.

As a Manchester divorce and family finance solicitor you tend to talk about family   mediation without actually thinking about the practical considerations and worries that a client may have. It still surprises me when a client says that he or she was too embarrassed to ask a question as they thought the question would make them look stupid. In my view no question is too stupid to ask and it is my job as a Manchester divorce solicitor to answer it.

How to get the best out of family mediation

Therefore, the question I wanted to answer was ‘how to get the best out of family mediation‘.

Here are some tips on how to get the best out of family mediation. Some of the tips may seem obvious but I have found that it is sometimes the obvious tips that people do not think about and get the most benefit from.

Do you know where you are going?

That may sound like a stupid question but often mediation sessions take place at a mediator’s office and the location may be unfamiliar to both the husband and wife. There can be nothing as stressful as either not arriving on time or not knowing where to park so it pays to check that you know where you are going.

Do you have time?

Again another basic question. However, as a Manchester divorce solicitor I am sometimes told that a client thought it would take no more than 30 minutes to discuss and resolve their divorce proceedings and financial claims and they have to dash.

Most mediation sessions last for about an hour to an hour and a half. Sometimes they can run over a bit. So it as well to avoid booking the mediation meeting on a day or at a time that you have to rush off to an important business meeting or  to do the school run.

Is it the right time?

If a couple have been separated for a while then it may be the right time to go to mediation and resolve family finances. For other couples, the situation can be a lot more complicated. If a husband or wife has been unhappy in the marriage for a long time, they may be ready to mediate. If the separation has come as a complete bombshell to their spouse, or they have recently suffered a bereavement, they may not be ready.

It is always a balancing exercise because you do not want to leave mediation for too long but starting it before one spouse is ready can be counterproductive. A spouse who is finding it hard to come to terms with the marriage breakdown might find it helpful to have a period of counselling before or during the mediation sessions.

Keep it simple

It can be tempting to use legal terminology at mediation sessions or even to refer to your spouse as ‘Mr / Mrs ‘, ‘him / her ’  , ‘the claimant’ and other terminology that I will not mention. It is best to use simple but respectful language. If you do not do so then the family mediation sessions are less likely to be successful and help you reach an agreement.

The past is in the past

When you are with a partner, it can be very tempting to go back over old history. Sometimes it can be relevant , for example if one of you contributed more to the deposit on your first family home or inherited some money years ago and paid the mortgage off with it. Sometimes it is not relevant, for example if you want to look at the reasons for the marriage breakdown.

Mediation is normally about looking at the future and helping you reach an agreement that will work for both of you and your children. If too much time is spent on looking at apportioning blame for the marriage breakdown, it may mean you are less likely to be able to focus on reaching an agreement.

There is more than one option

It is very rare for there to be only one family finance solution. There are normally many options, such as one spouse keeping the family home, the sale of the family home etc.

In my experience as a Manchester divorce and family finance solicitor, it is common for a spouse to have a fixed view about what they want to achieve in mediation. Knowing what you want can be helpful but being willing to look at options is more likely to make family mediation work for you. For example, the agreement may be that one spouse should stay in the family home to provide continuity for the children but the family home should be sold at an agreed date.

Mediation support

I see my job as a Manchester divorce solicitor as helping a separated client through mediation support . That involves:

  • Giving legal information and advice about divorce proceedings and the timing of the divorce ; and
  • Giving information and advice about the extent of your financial claims , for example , if you have a potential claim against a family business or a pension ; and
  • Talking to you about the financial paperwork needed to help you reach decisions in mediation ; and
  • Advising on the types of orders that a court might make if you or your spouse were to ask the court to decide on how your assets should be split so you can make informed decisions about any financial agreement discussed in mediation; and
  • If agreement is reached, preparing a draft financial court order for a judge to then approve and make into a binding financial court order.

Family mediation is not easy. It takes commitment from the mediator, solicitors and most importantly the spouses or partners to make it work. If it does work then generally it is more cost effective, quicker and better to have a mediated agreement that can be converted into a financial court order.

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