Part of our step-by-step help to deal with separation and divorce

A survival guide to family mediation

This guide is for you if you are going through a relationship breakdown and you are struggling to agree on what is going to happen to your home, money, children or other family issues. It doesn’t matter if you were married, in a civil partnership, living together, or never did any of these things. The guide explains what family mediation is and how it could help you.
Introduction

This guide explains:

  • what family mediation is,
  • how it can help you,
  • how to find a good mediator, and,
  • what your other options are.

In this guide we use the word ‘ex’ to describe the person you are separating from or are already separated from. This person could be your husband, wife, civil partner or partner.

This guide is for you if:

  • you live in England or Wales,
  • you are separated from your ex or are in the process of separating from them, or,
  • you are going through other types of relationship breakdown, for example between you and other family members, and,
  • there are things you need to agree on, to be able to move on to a better place.
Legal language

We try to explain any legal or technical language as we go along but for more help there is also a section at the end called What does it mean?

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June 2024
Family mediation - the basics
Family mediation is not about getting back together. In fact it is the opposite, family mediation aims to help you to agree how you will live apart.

Agreeing arrangements for the children or how you will divide money or property if your relationship has ended can be very hard. Often, it is just too hard to do by yourselves. Feelings get in the way and discussions about practical things get lost in the hurt and anger.  And when you do manage to discuss them, most people feel less reasonable and less fair than usual. It is for all these reasons that many people find it useful to get some help.

A good option is to meet a mediator, who is trained to help you put your feelings aside and focus on the practical issues that need to be sorted out. They can help you work out what the really important issues are, and help you reach an agreement about them. This is called mediation. The mediator will not take sides or decide what is fair for you - they are there to help you arrive at a decision that you consider fair. 

Mediators can give you both legal information about how the court makes decisions but they can’t give you individual legal advice on your position. So, it is wise to see a solicitor too to get legal advice on what you are agree to in mediation, especially if it relates to your finances after your divorce or separation.

Mediation can take place with you both together in the same space or in separate spaces – be that in different rooms at an office, or online in ‘virtual rooms’. If appropriate, it can involve your children too.

The Family Mediation Council sets high standards of practice for its mediators and monitors members so you can be reassured that you are dealing with well-trained professionals when you work with a mediator who is a member of the Family Mediation Council. You can read more about how mediators are trained and regulated in the section called How to find a good mediator and solicitor. 

When to try family mediation

Often it can be really helpful to try family mediation early on, after deciding to end your relationship. It can also be helpful later on if you are still having problems or facing new challenges. The best time to try mediation will be when both you and your ex feel ready for it. This may not be at the exact same time! 

It is important to understand that the court does expect separating couples to try and sort out their own arrangements without going to court unless there are serious concerns about a child’s safety or there are allegations of domestic abuse. This means that if you don’t try mediation or another approach to avoid court and then you apply to court the judge may tell you that you must try mediation or another type of help to get to an agreement or at least show you have looked at the different options and can explain why they are not right for your particular situation. The court calls the different ways of reaching an agreement out of court ‘non court dispute resolution’ or NCDR for short.

A mediation information and assessment meeting (or MIAM for short) is a helpful meeting where you can learn more about the different options to resolve your dispute. We talk more about these later.

What is the difference between using a solicitor and a mediator?

A solicitor:

  • Is a legal expert who will give you legal advice and suggest appropriate ways to reach an agreement out of court. Lawyers call this ‘non court dispute resolution’.
  • Can manage negotiations on your behalf to reach an agreement with your ex, either about arrangements for your children or finances.
  • Does not meet your ex and only represents you. The solicitor does not represent the children.
  • Can prepare your case and represent you at court (or arrange for a barrister to represent you) if you really cannot reach an agreement out of court.

A mediator:

  • Will work with both of you to help you discuss issues and reach agreements yourselves. Mediators are experts in managing discussions and negotiations with both clients and will always keep the children’s needs as the focus.
  • Can tell you if they think the agreement you and your ex are thinking about is unlikely to be viewed as fair by the court. A mediator can give you general legal information about the types of orders the family court can make.
  • Does not give legal advice, and does not represent you or your ex.
How family mediation can help you
  • Mediation gives you and your ex a safe and calm space to speak to each other in private.
  • Mediation is voluntary. 
  • It is often much quicker and cheaper than using a solicitor or going to court.
  • You can keep more control over the process than if you end up in court. You can make decisions based on what you know about your own family, rather than a judge making those decisions. This can help you understand and influence what is happening more.
  • It can help to reduce conflict and stress. If you have children together it will be easier to manage parenting in the years ahead if you manage to avoid a very hostile break-up.
  • The discussions are private between you, your ex and the mediator - any agreement you reach is confidential.
  • It can be more flexible than the court process.For example, you can agree on the number of sessions and when they happen, and what issues you cover. It can give you the chance to test out different ideas you may both have to move forward.
How mediation works and what to expect

Step 1 - a meeting with the mediator (often called a mediation information and assessment meeting) 

To start with you meet the mediator by yourself, and they meet your ex for a private chat too. This might be face to face or video call.

You will be able to tell the mediator about your situation and what is most important to you. Your ex will do the same.

This first meeting is a chance for you to get more information and a better understanding of the mediation process, as well as other ways you might sort out your family problems and what support you might need to do this. Sometimes you will hear this meeting called a mediation information and assessment meeting or MIAMs for short. We explain more about these meetings later. 

The mediator will check whether mediation is going to be suitable and, if so, whether it should take place with you in the room together, or whether it should happen with you in separate rooms. You do not have to meet your ex in person or online to take part in mediation – it can be done in separate spaces if this is what you need. 

Be aware that you do have to pay for this meeting unless you can get legal aid. We talk more about how much this and other sessions are likely to cost in the section called Costs

To find out more about legal aid take a look at How to get legal aid for a family law problem.

Step 2 - deciding to go ahead with mediation

If you decide mediation might be helpful for you, and your ex agrees, your mediator will organise the first mediation session.

Before the mediation starts the mediator has to set out in writing how mediation works in a document called an Agreement to Mediate. The mediator should check with you both that you understand the agreement and give you both an opportunity to ask questions.

The mediator will help you both (separately or together) to go through the issues, think about your options, decide whether they would work well in practice and come to an agreement about what is best. This is the aim of mediation, but be aware that any agreement reached is not legally binding at this stage - it is simply an agreement between you. To make it legally binding the family court must approve it.

Most people then need between 2 - 4 sessions to agree issues about their children and 4 - 6 sessions to agree financial issues. These sessions tend to last somewhere between 1 and 2 hours each time. How many sessions you need will depend on how far apart you are in your views and how complicated your situation is.

The mediator is there to make sure that both of you get a chance explain your thoughts on how to sort things out, particularly if one of you is better at explaining their position than the other. They will also actively manage the conversation, to make sure you both stay focused on finding solutions.

If you are dealing with decisions about money, the mediator will ask both of you to provide documents to prove the details of your finances. You do this by filling out forms giving all the details and providing evidence like bank statements, mortgage statements and pension valuations. The sooner you can get all your financial paperwork together the better as this can hold things up. Getting information about any pensions you have can take months, so start there.

At points in the process the mediator might suggest you get other help and guidance, for example from a pensions adviser, counsellor or therapist.

Regardless of the issues you need to try and sort out in mediation you can expect that the mediator will ask that:

  • You try hard to listen to each other and don’t do not interrupt or talk over the other person.
  • You try hard not to blame each other or find fault in each other’s behaviour, but instead focus on solving the problems.
  • That you stick to what you say you are going to do so that progress is made.
  • You try hard to focus on the present and the future, rather the past and the problems that lead to your separation.

We have several guides that can help you alongside the mediation process.

Divorce

A survival guide to divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership will help you get the bigger picture when it comes to making a decision about a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership. If you decide that getting a divorce is right for you, you can go on to look at How to get a divorce or end a civil partnership without the help of a lawyer.

Finances on divorce

People often find it hard to work out an agreement on finances when your marriage or civil partnership ends. A survival guide to sorting out your finances when you get divorced can help you think things through.

As you work your way through the guide, you can get expert legal advice at the most crucial stages from a panel of Resolution lawyers for a low-cost fixed fee price. 

Arrangements for your children

If you need a bit of help to agree the care arrangements for your children, take a look at A survival guide to sorting out arrangements for your children. As you work your way through the guide you can get expert legal advice at the most crucial stages from a panel of Resolution lawyers for a low-cost fixed fee price. 

Getting some legal advice as you go

As you go through the mediation process and definitely before you reach a final agreement, it is wise to get advice from a solicitor to check that what you are agreeing to is fair for you. If you cannot get legal aid, you could try Getting affordable advice from a family solicitor via Advicenow. Alternatively, take a look at the section called How to find a good mediator and solicitor for more information.

If you decide mediation is not for you, or your ex is not willing to go ahead, you could consider asking a family solicitor for advice on your situation and what on other options there might be to help you avoid court. Take a look at the section How to find a good mediator and solicitor for more on how to do this.

Step 3 - finalising your agreement

When you have found a way forward that you both think can work, the mediator will write down what you have decided in detail. This document is not legally binding. When you have both had legal advice on your proposals and you are still happy with it you can ask a family law solicitor to turn your proposals into a legal agreement. This is particularly important when it comes to your agreement on finances. We explain more about this in our guide on how to divide up the home and money when you divorce. Once both of you think it says everything that it should, this document can be sent to the court. This document is called a draft consent order. If the judge approves your agreement it is made into a court order, just as if you had gone to court. The agreement is then legally binding on you both. When it comes to arrangements for the children it is less usual to ask the court to approve your agreement. This is because the law says it is better for children if there are no orders made about them and if the court does not intervene in their lives, unless it is in their best interest for the court to do so. You can read more about this in our guide on how to agree where the children will live and when they will spend time with their other parent. 

If you have managed to agree some issues but not others, the mediator will record what has been agreed and what still needs to be sorted out. This should help you cut your legal costs if you need to use a solicitor to advise you on how to go forward on the issues you cannot agree on.

Mike's story

First, I thought mediation would be pointless. I was angry that there was another hurdle I had to jump when I was already feeling overwhelmed. And I had to pay for it! I had it in my head that we had to go to court and fight it out. To my surprise my ex was a bit keen. She was taken with the idea that we might get everything sorted out in a couple of months. To be honest that made me even more convinced I didn't want to do it. I didn't see why I should make things easy for her. But we have two kids. It was hard to argue that it wouldn't be better for them if it were all done quickly. In the end I agreed to go, but I wasn’t convinced. But by the end of the first session, I could see how it would work. It felt like the right thing for us. It helped us to start talking again, which has made things loads easier for the kids, which is the most important thing really.

 

Mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs)

A mediation information and assessment meeting, or MIAM for short, is a meeting that gives you the opportunity to understand more about mediation and other options, with the help of a mediator. It is not mediation, but a chance to get more information and ask questions about the process. Going to a MIAM does not mean you have to go on to mediation.

The purpose of a MIAM is to:

  • give you information about how you might be able to sort out your disagreement without going to court, including help on finding other options and support, and,
  • work out whether mediation is a safe way for you and your ex (or other family members) to try and sort out your disagreement.

You need to contact an authorised family mediator to set up a MIAM - take a look at the section called How to find a good family mediator and solicitor to find a good mediator near you. They will invite you both to attend a MIAM, usually separately. For information on legal aid and the costs of this meeting if you cannot get legal aid, go to the section called Costs.

The government wants to encourage people to try mediation and other possible ways to sort out your dispute, and this is a good way to learn more about the process. If at any point you or your ex decide to apply to the family court, you will need to go to a MIAM and consider other ways to resolve your disagreement first.

What to expect at a MIAM

The meeting will probably last about 45 minutes - 1 hour. The mediator will do various things. We list some next.
  • Talk with you about your situation to find out what is important to you.
  • Explain what family mediation and other forms of dispute resolution are, how they work, the benefits, and the likely costs.
  • Work out if you are eligible for legal aid for mediation or if you will have to pay for it.
  • Give you their view on whether mediation, or a different form of dispute resolution, is suitable in your case.

Once you have been to a MIAM, you or the family mediator may decide there are reasons why mediation will not work for you. Mediation may not be appropriate if your case involves issues around:

  • domestic abuse, controlling or bullying behaviour,
  • child safety concerns,
  • mental health problems or learning difficulties,
  • drug or alcohol misuse.

Circumstances when you don’t have to go to a MIAM

There are some circumstances when you do not have to attend a MIAM before going to court. For example, if you have an agreement and just want the court to approve it, if your application is urgent, if you have already tried mediation in the last 4 months, if you have serious concerns about your child’s safety, or in some situations where there is domestic abuse.

You can find the full list of circumstances in which you can ask the court to agree that you don’t have to attend a MIAM (the law calls this ‘claiming an exemption’) in Practice Direction 3A, paragraph 17 of the Family Procedure Rules.

If there has been domestic abuse in your relationship

Domestic abuse in relationships is very common. It happens when one person controls the other in a family relationship. Abuse can take place in your home or community but also online. There are many different types of abuse including:

  • emotional,
  • psychological,
  • economic, including financial,
  • physical, and,
  • sexual.

It can happen at any time and can often get worse when you split up. To read more about the signs of an abusive relationship you can go to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline website.

Mediation and domestic abuse

A MIAM is a good way to find out if mediation is appropriate in your particular situation, this is especially important if you have experienced domestic abuse in your relationship.

Mediators are trained to recognise issues around domestic abuse and how it can impact on your ability to mediate.

For mediation to go ahead you, your ex and the mediator all need to agree that you can discuss your concerns without fear, and that you will both be able to think clearly and make good decisions.

If you decide that mediation is not right for you, you might find it more comfortable to get a solicitor to negotiate with your ex (or their solicitor) for you. If you are on a low income and can get evidence of the abusive nature of your relationship you may be able to get legal aid to cover the costs of a solicitor. For more help on this see Getting legal aid for a family case.

Costs

Legal aid and other financial help for mediation

Legal aid may be available for mediation if you are on a low income and don’t have much in the way of savings or other things of value. Lawyers call these things ‘assets’. For most family law cases, to get legal aid you need to show evidence of domestic abuse. But this is not needed for legal aid for mediation.

If you can get legal aid for mediation, the MIAM and the mediation sessions are free. You may also be able to get a small amount of free legal advice alongside it, and get the agreement you make about your finances made into a legally binding document for free too. This is called the Help with Mediation scheme. To get this help you need to find a solicitor who does legal aid. Be aware that it is getting harder and harder to find solicitors who offer this service. 

To get an idea of whether you might be entitled to legal aid you can go to the GOV.UK website and go through some questions to check if you can get legal aid. If you think you may be entitled to legal aid, you can find mediators that offer legal aid via the Family Mediation Council website.

Ask the mediator about legal aid when you contact them, and they will explain the process for assessing you for legal aid. Some mediators do this remotely, in advance of the first meeting, for example via video call or phone call. Others will do it at your first mediation appointment. They will explain what evidence they need from you about your financial situation to work out if you can get legal aid for mediation.  

If your ex is entitled to legal aid for mediation but you are not, you do not have to pay for the MIAM session or the first mediation session.

It can be hard to find a mediator that offers legal aid nowadays. If you struggle to find one you might be able to benefit from the family mediation voucher scheme instead. We explain that next.

Family mediation voucher scheme

The government has a scheme to encourage people to mediate mediate called the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme. You may be able to get some financial help through this. This scheme is time limited but will run until at least April 2025.

If you have a family problem that is covered by the scheme you can get a £500 voucher to cover the costs of mediation. If you can’t agree arrangements for your children or if you can’t agree finances and arrangements for your children, you should be able to get this help.

There is more information on the Family Mediation Council website about the Family mediation voucher scheme.

If you cannot get legal aid or benefit from the voucher scheme

If you cannot get Legal Aid it can be hard to work out how much it’s all going to cost at the start.

The total cost will depend on:

  • how many things you need to agree on,
  • how complicated they are,
  • how long it takes you to reach an agreement,
  • the fees charged by the service you decide to use.

The costs involved in going to a MIAM vary. Mediators tend to charge a fixed fee for this meeting. Fixed fees for a MIAM range between £100 - £160 per person. Some mediators charge at the lower end of this range but then charge extra for signing the form you need to start a court application - if you decide to do this. Other mediators include this in the price, if you end up needing it.

If, after the MIAM, you decideto mediate you need to look into the costs set by the mediator and agree who will pay for it. Will you share the costs equally or will one of you pay more or all the costs?

The fees charged by mediators vary and some offer fixed fees while others charge by how long the session takes - known as an hourly rate. Some will also charge you for the time they spend on your case outside the actual sessions – for example on paperwork and planning. 

Some mediators charge people according to their income, so if you are on a low income you may be charged less. On average mediation costs around £140 per person per hour. A session could be longer than an hour and you could agree that one of you pays all the fee. 

Mediators usually charge for creating documents you are likely to need too, but often don’t charge for emails or letters between sessions. The documents you may need include:

  • an open financial statement which sets out both your and your ex’s financial situations, and,
  • summary of your agreed proposals.

The mediator should tell you in advance how their fees work. Be prepared for some mediators to ask for payment in advance.

Remember that most people need to pay for some independent legal advice too so you should budget at least an extra £400 - £500 for that, and a further £1000 - £1500 to get any agreement about finances made into a court order. When you are looking for a mediator or a solicitor, do not be afraid to phone around and compare prices.

How to find a good family mediator and solicitor

How to find a good family mediator

Ask friends and family for a recommendation or your solicitor if you have one. Or you can use the search tool provided by the Family Mediation Council to find one near you.

If you follow up on a recommendation be sure to just check the name on the Family Mediation Council website so you know that the person is registered and either working towards being an accredited mediator or is accredited. This will give you reassurance that the mediator you choose is trained and experienced.

Training and regulation for mediators

Anyone can call themselves a family mediator, so it is really important to choose a mediator who is registered with the Family Mediation Council. These mediators are regulated by the Family Mediation Standards Board (FMSB) which is part of The Family Mediation Council (FMC).

Being registered means a mediator is well trained and follows their Code of Practice to maintain good standards in their work. They are fully insured and offer a complaints process if something goes wrong. 

Mediators on the Family Mediation Council Register are either accredited or working towards accreditation. Accredited mediators are experienced and have met strict requirements to get accredited. Mediators working towards accreditation have trained more recently and are gaining experience to become accredited.

Not all mediators do legal aid funded mediation, but those who do must be accredited – you can search for them by ticking the second box in the section called ‘Refine my search’ on the Find your local mediator page. Mediators must be accredited to carry out MIAMs.

Mediators are trained to give legal information but not legal advice. Some people feel safer with a mediator who is also a qualified solicitor as they have experience of the family court system. If you want a mediator who is also a solicitor, use the search on the Family Mediation Council’s website and check what it says on the mediator’s website about their background. Or the search on Resolution’s site, where you can search by ‘mediator’ and in the details section you can see if the mediator is also a solicitor. Be aware, however, that this list includes some mediators who are not accredited. Some mediators have backgrounds in other very useful professions that could be particularly helpful to you depending on your situation, such as financial advisers or family therapists.

Do not be afraid to phone around and compare prices. You need to ask:
  • How experienced is the mediator? Is the mediator accredited? (If the mediator is working towards accreditation they will be less experienced but supervised and supported).
  • How many mediations do they do each year?  (Try to choose an experienced mediator who does many sessions each year).
  • How much is the MIAM?
  • How much will each mediation session cost for each of you?
  • Are there are any other additional fees (for example, is there a separate cost for writing up the agreement at the end or signing court forms, if needed)?
  • How busy they are – are they likely to be able to see you at a time that both you and your ex can do?

How to find a good family law solicitor

For help finding a family lawyer a good place to start is Resolution where you can find family law solicitors by searching with your postcode. Resolution members must commit to helping you work out your legal problem in a non-confrontational way. A green tick stating 'accepts legal aid' tells you that they offer legal aid.

You can also search for a specialist lawyer near you who has been accredited by the Law Society. This means they have a significant amount of experience and expertise and have passed a Law Society assessment. On the Law Society Find a solicitor page you can click on ‘More search options’ on the right at the bottom of the box. This gives more options to choose from. Here you can tick the accreditation box for ‘Family’ or ‘Family - advanced’, or both.

You can also find a family solicitor who offers legal aid via the GOV.UK website.

Some family law specialists do extra training in an approach to solving legal problems called the collaborative approach. If you use this approach, each of you agree to use a collaboratively trained lawyer and have meetings together to try and solve the issues without going to court. You can search for a collaboratively trained lawyer on the Resolution website by choosing ‘Collaborative practitioner’ in the Service offering box.

Do not be afraid to call around various firms to get information on their costs and a feel for their firm’s approach.

Preparing for mediation to get the most out of the process

If you and your ex agree to go to mediation the best way to get the most out of it is to prepare before you go. You can ask the mediator what they suggest you read before you go to prepare. Having a better understanding of the law will mean you feel more confident going into the mediation process. We have several guides on different areas of family law that can help you prepare for your mediation sessions.

Divorce

If you are thinking about divorce and just want to know more about what it may involve A survival guide to divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership is for you.

Finances on divorce

If you are concerned about how you might sort out all your finances when you divorce A survival guide to sorting out your finances when you get divorced will be really helpful.

Arrangements for the care of your children

If you are having difficulties agreeing with your ex about the arrangements for the care of your children A survival guide to sorting out arrangements for your children is a great place to start.

Common questions

Do I have to go to mediation?

If you can reach an agreement yourselves, you do not need to go to mediation. If you are struggling to do this, mediation can be helpful. If one of you decides to ask the family court for a formal decision, the court will expect you to try mediation or another type of help to resolve your dispute before it deals with the problem and makes a decision for you. This is because the government thinks, with good reason, that it is usually better that you decide these things between yourselves if you can, rather than the court telling everyone what to do.

So, if you are considering going to court you need to have had an introductory meeting about mediation first. These are called Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings or MIAMs for short.  You need to attend one of these meetings unless you have an agreement already written down that you want made into an order by the court (called a consent order), or if you can show you are exempt.

I like the idea of mediation, but I’m not sure I can face the idea of seeing my ex again and again.

Many people feel like this. Having to see and speak to your ex is both a challenge and also, potentially, can be a positive side-effect of mediation. Many people find it enables them to communicate with their ex again, which if you have children together can only be a good thing.

If you are dead set against it, many mediators can see you separately and offer mediation where you and your ex sit in separate rooms, or mediate by video call, in separate virtual ‘rooms’. This is sometimes called ‘shuttle mediation’. Your other option is to use a solicitor to negotiate on your behalf.  This can be more expensive but, particularly if there are issues of abuse, it can feel safer to have an expert on your side, making your case for you.  You can find a good family law solicitor who believes in a constructive, non-confrontational approach on the Resolution website.

If you have children, it is worth thinking about how you’re going to manage in the years ahead and what it will feel like dealing with your ex when you no longer have your solicitor involved.  Using a mediator can be a useful way of reducing conflict with your ex in a safe and controlled way, which could make it easier for you in the future.

We need to sort out arrangements for our children who are now 12 and 15. Can or should they be involved in the mediation?

The mediator should explain, at the first meeting, that children over the age of 10 should get the chance to speak with a mediator as part of the wider process. This is to help both parents take into account their views when working towards a future plan that involves them. Younger children can also be involved, if both parents agree.

If you, the children and the mediator agree, then the children can speak to the mediator themselves. Some mediators are specially trained to talk to children (you can search for them by ticking the bottom box on the Family Mediation Council search tool). It can be helpful for the children to be involved about the issues that affect them such as where they will live, which parent they live with, and how often they will see their other parent. The weight given to the children’s thoughts will depend on how old they are and how mature they are. 

You can read more about child inclusive mediation, where children and young people are given a voice by a mediator on the Family Mediation Council website.

I would not trust my ex to actually do what she’s agreed to do. Would I be better off sorting it out another way?

The costs involved will depend on how complicated the agreement is and if you can find a solicitor who will offer you a fixed fee for sorting it all out, or if you have to pay an hourly rate. There will also be a court fee to pay.

If you think your ex will lie about their finances you might want to consider using a solicitor instead of, or alongside, mediation.

You cannot usually get agreements about the children made into a court order in the same way. This is because the law says that the court should only make orders about children if it would be better for the children than making no order. But, as court orders about children are hard to enforce anyway especially if the children are older than around 12 years old, coming to agreements that work for everyone, and especially for the children, is is probably still your best option.

I am worried about having to make my case myself. Can my solicitor come to the mediation sessions with me?

Usually your solicitor does not go to mediation with you. You can get advice from a solicitor between sessions to check that the agreements you are coming to are fair. The mediator will ensure that you are properly heard and that your case is understood by everyone present.

However, there are other options. One is hybrid mediation, also known as intergrated mediation, and another is collaborative practice.

Hybrid mediation, or intergrated mediation, is where you go to mediation with your solicitor, who gives you legal advice right there and then, rather than in between or after your mediation sessions. It is usual for your ex to have a solicitor there too or available via video call, but it is not compulsory. This approach can speed the whole process up and so ultimately can save money, if you can afford to have a solicitor there in the first place. Other professionals can be involved in the same way – such as pensions advisors or financial advisers..

Collaborative practice involves you and your solicitor meeting with your ex and their solicitor to come to an agreement. If you can afford it (and it is quite expensive), that might be a better choice for you. You can find a collaborative lawyer on the Resolution website.

My ex is very persuasive and charming. How can I be sure that the mediator will not be biased?

Mediators are trained to be unbiased. They do not take sides or decide who they like best. They make sure that both of you have the opportunity to say what you need to say and help you reach an agreed plan for the future. When you have the first meeting before you start mediation talk to the mediator about any concerns so that you can ensure you have complete confidence in their ability to remain impartial.

Is mediation cheaper than using a solicitor to negotiate for me?

If you are entitled to legal aid, then mediation will be free for you, including a small amount of legal advice alongside it – if you are able to find a legal aid solicitor who offers this service. In most cases, legal aid is not available for solicitors to represent you and sort things out for you anymore, so you would have to pay for a solicitor to negotiate for you.

If you are not entitled to legal aid, it is usually a lot cheaper to mediate rather than use a solicitor to negotiate everything for you. If you are making arrangements for your children, you can get a £500 mediation voucher per separated couple, to help pay for your mediation sessions.

How much mediation will cost depends on whether you are able to come to an agreement or not, and if so, how quickly. If you can agree on some issues fairly quickly and narrow the points of disagreement you will have saved money. This is because mediators usually charge less than solicitors and even if their fees are similar, mediation usually helps you get to an agreement more quickly than if you just use solicitors.

If you cannot come to an agreement or have only agreed on some things, you have to pay for the mediation and for whatever solicitor and court fees it takes to get the rest of the matter sorted.

I’ve been given legal advice that says what I should get, but my ex is never going to agree to that. Is there any point in going to mediation?

Yes.  It is very normal in a time of relationship breakdown to see the problems as too big to make mediation worthwhile, but the mediator is an expert in problem-solving and resolving conflict. 

Also, bear in mind that the advice you have been given by a solicitor was probably that they thought you could argue for ‘this’, not that a judge would definitely award you ‘this’ or that such an award is the only thing that would be fair. A different solicitor may well give your ex different advice about what a court might order.

If you can come to an agreement (through mediation or another method) you will save money on court fees, solicitors fees if you have a solicitor, save yourself a considerable amount of stress, and usually save yourselves from further damaging your relationship – which has got to be good, especially if you have children together.

Do remember though, for your agreement to be legally binding you need to ask the court to turn it into a court order. There will be costs involved in this process but using mediation to reach an agreement and then getting legal advice on formalising it is likely to be much cheaper than paying a solicitor to negotiate each and every thing you disagree on.

I don’t think we’re ever going to agree. Going straight to court just seems quicker and easier.

Sometimes people have the idea that going to court is what you should do. But if you want to go to court over a family problem, you must show the court that you have met with a mediator first and considered mediation or you that have tried some other type of help to come to an agreement, known by the court as non-court dispute resolution.

This expectation applies to cases about children and your money and property when you divorce unless there are serious concerns about the children’s safety or allegations of domestic abuse. In practice very few cases end up in a court hearing, and for good reason. You have to wait a long time for court date, it can then take months for the case to finish. If you use a solicitor their fees can build up very quickly to thousands of pounds so it is neither quick nor easy. Also it is important to know that, if you do go to court, the judge will expect you to compromise as much as possible, just like in mediation and may even pause the case to ask you to try mediation or some other service to help you sort out your disagreement. 

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What to do if you cannot agree
It can be stressful and draining to try hard to reach an agreement but feel you are not making progress. If you feel you have got to this stage, try not to give up. We have various guides about divorce, finances on divorce and sorting out arrangements for children to help you through this demanding time.

We know that many people cannot afford to pay a solicitor to help them with their case, or that they need to do as much as possible themselves to save money. But there are times when you are dealing with finances after divorce or arrangements for your children when it is really useful to get some expert help from a family lawyer. 

To help, we have teamed up with Resolution to provide a panel of family law solicitors that can help at the most important points of the process for a fixed fee. We are clear about what areas of the case they can advise you on and how much their help will cost - so that you can be certain you can afford it. As you go through the guides below you will see the bits that you can get advice on. To find out more take a look at Getting affordable advice from a family law solicitor via Advicenow

Guides on sorting out your finances

If you have read A survival guide to sorting out your finances when you get divorced and are still really struggling to reach an agreement on finances and cannot afford legal advice, then go on to look at How to apply for a financial order without the help of a lawyer.

Guides on sorting out arrangements for your children

If you have read A survival guide to sorting out arrangements for your children and you really cannot reach an agreement it may be that you have to apply to court. If you find yourself in that situation go on to look at How to apply for a court order about arrangements for your children without the help of a lawyer.

Other options

If trying to agree between yourselves or through mediation does not work you may need to get some advice from a solicitor on what to do next, if you can afford to. A family law solicitor can negotiate with your ex on your behalf. This is usually more expensive than mediation, unless you are eligible for legal aid. 

Some people cannot agree even with help from solicitors and have to take the issue to court so that the court can decide. Going to court is stressful, slow and expensive, so it is best to avoid it if you can. Some people feel they should go to court to ’protect themselves’ but this is a misunderstanding of the system – agreements arrived at through mediation (or any other way) can be written up into a legally binding document and made into a court order by a judge.

It is usually much better in the long-term to have had a proper say in the decisions arrived at, so that they work for your family.

Before you can take a family issue to court, you must show that you have thought about using mediation or another type of help to reach an agreement, unless your situation means you are exempt – for a reminder of what this means look at the section called Mediation information and assessment meetings. In fact, even if you go to court, the judge will expect you both to try and compromise at each step of the process, before making a decision for you on what you really cannot agree on. The court will be willing to make some of the big decisions you cannot agree on, but will expect you to come to agreements on the smaller everyday issues. Going forward the court will want to see you work together for the benefit of your children.

Other types of help to avoid going to court

There are other types of help that you can use to avoid court. But, generally, you would need a solicitor to help you access them. And we understand that lots of people can’t afford that first step, let alone more costs on top. However, if you do end up in court the judge is likely to ask you if you have tried other options, so it is a good idea to know what they are so you can explain why you haven’t, if you need to.

The collaborative approach is where you each use a family lawyer who has done extra training to work in a way that is called the collaborative approach. It is very different to using a solicitor in a traditional way. In this approach you have meetings with your solicitor along with your ex and their solicitor and everyone agrees to have open conversations to try and reach an agreement out of court.

Neutral evaluation is where a family lawyer who is not involved in your family law problem looks at your situation and provides you with their view as to what a judge might decide. Then, ideally, you and your ex can use that view to guide you to an agreement without going to court.

Arbitration can be an alternative to going to court. It is almost like a private version of the court process. It involves a senior family lawyer or retired judge making a decision just in relation to things you cannot decide for yourselves. You get to control the timetable so it can be a lot quicker than going through the court system. And whilst is is not cheap it may well be cheaper than court if you had a solicitor or barrister throughout the whole court process that you needed to pay. For more information on this process take a look at the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators website.

What does it mean?

Arbitration - this is process where you and your ex agree to appoint a senior lawyer or retired judge and you pay them to make a legally binding decision about what you are unable to agree on.

Collaborative practice - this is an approach where you both agree to use specially trained lawyers and have meetings altogether to try and solve the issues without going to court.

Hybrid / intergrated mediation - this is mediation with a lawyer there too, to advise you on the suggestions being made so that you can reach an agreement more quickly, with the benefit of legal advice there and then. It can also involve other professionals who can advise you, such as pensions advisers or financial advisers.

MIAM - this is short for Mediation information and assessment meeting. This is a meeting that gives you in an introduction to family mediation. It enables you to learn more about what is involved and helps you to work out with the mediator if the process of mediation is likely to help you and your ex.

Neutral evaluation - this is where a family lawyer who is not involved in your family law problem looks at your situation and provides you with their view as to what a judge might decide. Then, ideally, you and your ex can use that view to guide you to an agreement without going to court.

More help and advice

Relationship help and support

Relate have lots of information on their website on a range of problems that can arise in relationships and families.

Parenting help and information

Cafcass work with children and their families, and then advise the court on what they consider to be in the best interests of individual children. They have some helpful information on their website for children, young people and parents involved in the family court system.

Gingerbread provides expert advice, practical support and other help for single parents. They have lots of online help and ask you to look at that before calling their helpline, due to high demand. 

Family Lives is a national charity providing help and support in all aspects of family life. Their helpline can give information, advice, guidance and support on any aspect of parenting and family life.

Family Helpline: 0808 800 2222

Monday to Friday 9am-9pm

Saturday and Sunday 10am - 3pm

OnlyMums offers online support to parents going through divorce or separation.  The site has a free web chat facility and email exchange service.  OnlyMums and OnlyDads run the Family Law Panel, which links you up to specialist family law solicitors, barristers or mediators near you for a free initial conversation either on the phone or by email to help you work out how to go forward. 

OnlyDads offers online support to parents going through divorce or separation.  The site has a free web chat facility and email exchange service.  OnlyMums and OnlyDads run the Family Law Panel, which links you up to specialist family law solicitors, barristers or mediators near you for a free initial conversation either on the phone or by email to help you work out how to go forward. 

MATCH - Mothers Apart from their Children is a charity that offers non-judgemental support and information to mothers apart from their children in a wide variety of circumstances.

e-mail:enquiries@matchmothers.org

Helpline: 0800 689 4104 - 9.30am- 1pm and 7pm-9.30pm.

Child contact centres

National Association of Child Contact Centres provide a neutral place for children to meet the parent who no longer lives at home with them. They have a page on their website for parents and carers to understand more about the services they offer. 

Domestic abuse

If your ex has been or is being abusive to you there are lots of places you can find out more information and get support. Always dial 999 in an emergency.

For support or to discuss your options you can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or in Wales, Live Fear Free on 0808 80 10 800.

Both help lines are for anyone who is experiencing, or has experienced domestic abuse, or for anyone who is worried about domestic abuse happening to a friend, family member or colleague. It is free, confidential and the number will not show up on a BT telephone bill.

If you are a man and you or your children are affected by domestic abuse you can contact the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327. 

Safer Wales runs the Dyn Project which provides support to heterosexual, gay, bisexual and trans men who are experiencing abuse from a partner. They provide confidential support and help for men affected by domestic abuse to find the best available services in their local area. Call the Dyn Wales Helpline for support and advice on 0808 801 0321 (open Monday to Friday 9am–5pm). Or email Dyn@saferwales.com

Galop runs a national helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people experiencing domestic abuse. You can contact them on 0800 999 5428. 

You can find more information and support from:

How to find legal advice

For help finding a family lawyer a good place to start is Resolution where you can find lawyers by searching using your postcode. Resolution members must commit to helping you work out your legal problem in a non-confrontational way. A green tick next to the words ‘accepts legal aid’ tells you that they offer legal aid. You can also find a family lawyer who offers legal aid via the GOV.UK website.

You can also search for a specialist lawyer near you who has been accredited by the Law Society. This means they have a significant amount of experience and expertise and have passed a Law Society assessment - go to Law Society Find a solicitor page.

Some family law specialists do extra training in an approach to solving legal problems called collaborative approach. If you use this approach, each of you agree to use a collaboratively trained lawyer and have meetings together to try and solve the issues without going to court. You can search for a collaboratively trained lawyer on the Resolution website by choosing ‘Collaborative practitioner’ in the Service offering box.

Children Advice Centre provide free advice on all areas of English child and family law from the Child Law Advice Line on 0300 330 5480 Monday to Friday 8am - 6pm.

Another way to get legal advice is to speak to a barrister who is qualified to represent members of the public directly (without a solicitor being involved). There are limits on what a barrister can do outside of representation at court but it is often a cheaper option if you just want to get some advice rather than have a solicitor to negotiate on your behalf. The details of appropriately qualified barristers and an explanation of the way the system works can be found on the Direct Access Portal website which is run by the Bar Council. Don’t be afraid to phone around to compare prices or see if you can find someone who will give you the first appointment for free.

Help at court or help with a court hearing by phone or by video call

Support Through Court supports people going through the court process without a lawyer. Volunteers offer a free and confidential service at some court buildings. You can look at their website to see if they have an office at your local court. The volunteers aim to help you manage your own case yourself. They cannot give legal advice or act on your behalf, but can offer practical help such as going to your hearing with you and supporting you with your forms. They can also help you if your hearing is by video or phone, by talking you through the process and sometimes joining the hearing too. They run a free national helpline 03000 810 006, open Monday to Friday 10.30am - 3.30pm. This is a good place to start for information on what they can do to help you.

About this guide

Disclaimer

The information in this guide applies to the law in England and Wales only.

The law is complicated. We have simplified things in this guide. Please don’t rely on this guide as a complete statement of the law. We recommend you try and get advice from the sources we have suggested. The cases we refer to are not always real but show a typical situation. We have included them to help you think about how to deal with your own situation.

Acknowledgements

June 2024 

This guide was updated by Advicenow thanks to funding from the Ministry of Justice. 

Advicenow would like to thank everyone who contributed their time and expertise to improving this guide, in particular, Matt Bass, Caroline Bowden, Robert Creighton, and Helen Anthony. 

December 2021

This guide was written and produced by Advicenow thanks to funding from the Litigant in Person Support Strategy. 

Advicenow would like to thank all those who provided advice and feedback on this guide, and particularly Rhiannon Russell Jones and Philippa Johnson of Turner Johnson Mediation.

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