25th January 2019
Now we are in the final day of Family Mediation Week, we spend some time talking with our Victoria House Family Mediator – Laura Bell.
This interview with Laura gives insight into Mediation from the eyes of a practitioner…
Explain what mediation is to someone who hasn’t heard of it before:
Mediation is a structured, interactive process where a neutral third party assists disputing couples in order to reach agreement, often to resolve finances and children matters upon a divorce or separation. All participants are encouraged to actively participate in the process and with the help of the impartial Mediator they can communicate and negotiate in a safe, controlled environment in order to resolve issues and agree a plan going forward.
Agreements can then be formalised by the Court without need to attend in person.
Why does mediation work well for clients?
I believe mediation works well for clients because it gives both sides an opportunity to put their points across and be heard. It allows people to maintain control in relation to decision making, rather than having decisions enforced upon them by the Court.
What do you feel are the 3 best benefits of mediation?
There are numerous benefits to embarking on mediation to resolve matters following a divorce or separation. From the client’s point of view I think that the main benefits are: Cost, time and dignity.
Cost – Mediation can be considerably less expensive than attending Court hearings and the cost of mediation is shared between both parties.
Time – Mediation is a very time-efficient way of reaching agreement, you can book your mediation sessions at dates and times that suit you both and have the appointments relatively close together in order to speed up the process. Court hearings can have long waiting times and the dates are enforced upon you.
Dignity – Mediation allows for both parties to discuss and work out their differences in a dignified manner with much less confrontation than in the court room. Discussing topics over the table rather than via solicitors letters keeps the ball rolling and allows separated couples to still talk and work together to find solutions.
How do you know if mediation will work for you?
Mediation works well if there is still open communication between both parties and where both are willing to work together to resolve matters.
However, if you have a particularly strained relationship with an ex-partner it doesn’t mean that mediation can be ruled out completely.
Even when communication has broken down and the relationship is difficult, we can offer ‘Shuttle Mediation’ where clients are kept in separate rooms and the mediator will work between different meeting rooms, going back and forth to discuss topics. We can ensure that parties arrive at different times to allow for some discretion and minimise time spent together. We try to be as accommodating as possible to ensure our clients feel comfortable – we would ensure that you weren’t left in a waiting room together, for example.
There are some cases where mediation is just not an option and in these instances we can recommend the best route to take.
What tips would you give someone attending a mediation session / how should they prepare?
I would recommend that clients seek their own legal advice ahead of attending mediation so that they are equipped and understand what types of agreements can be realistically enforced before starting the process.
Clients should have an idea of their assets and finances and if they have children, some outlined proposals of how they see contact working for them as a family.
Being open-minded is essential. Clients need to arrive to mediation calm and collected, prepared to compromise and meet in the middle with decisions that both can live with.
I would also recommend using a Solicitor/Mediator, rather than someone who solely does mediation work. A solicitor will have a good working knowledge of what the current law is and what agreements appear reasonable to a Court.
What should a client expect from their first meeting with a mediator?
Your first mediation appointment is an opportunity for you to find out more about the process, how it works, the estimated fees and timescales and whether the process will suit you and your own circumstances.
This first meeting will therefore usually be held on an individual basis.
You can air your hopes and concerns and outline what you want to achieve from mediation and help the mediator build a picture of the case. This first session is also an opportunity for you to familiarise yourself with the office surroundings so that when you start mediating you feel comfortable. Simple things like navigating the car park / traffic all helps to alleviate any stress you may be feeling before the session begins.
Have you had a mediation that didn’t work?
There are some mediation cases that do not work out for a number of reasons. It could be that the other party doesn’t turn up for the appointment or it could be that the mediation breaks down part way through or even right at the last session – which is a shame, but it does happen occasionally.
On the whole, mediation is very successful, but it not then the client can ask the mediator to complete a MIAMS form. When the mediator believes that mediation is not an option, the MIAM form will allow the client to take the matter to Court having explored mediation first.
How many mediation sessions do clients tend to have before reaching an agreement?
It varies; on average my clients tend to have 3 or 4 sessions before reaching an agreement. Depending on the type of client or the complexity of the issue it can be shorter or take longer. I have had clients just take one session to agree upon children arrangements. Other clients with lots of complicated assets to share or business interests to agree upon can take longer.
The aim is to always move efficiently through the discussion areas and keep the ball rolling.
What made you want to train as a Mediator?
Having seen in practice that mediation works for so many clients made me keen to train as a mediator. It is a much nicer way of working with clients and being part of the resolution rather than dealing with heavy litigation. Clients appreciate the option of mediation from a cost perspective and it is a much more dignified way of dealing with divorce or separation from all sides. There is real job satisfaction seeing clients communicate and work together to achieve a positive result which sees them both able to move on with their lives.
What qualities make a good Mediator?
Good listening skills are essential, along with the ability to remain calm, collected and neutral at all times. It is important to be creative and dynamic – thinking outside the box to come up with alternative solutions that the clients may not have considered.
Some clients will need encouragement to join in with discussions and it takes skill to ensure both parties are given an equal opportunity to have their input or voice concerns. A mediator needs to be able to keep the discussion on track and know when to move away from negotiations that are not going anywhere.
Laura Bell is an Associate Solicitor, Collaborative Family Practitioner and Accredited Mediator within our Family Department at Lamb Brooks.
After joining the firm in 2007 and qualifying as a Solicitor within the Family Team, Laura went on to become a Mediator and achieved her accredited mediator status in 2018.
For further information on Mediation please call Laura on 01256 305507 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.
If you are need of professional, reliable legal advice, contact us today.
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