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 have recently split up or are struggling to agree with your ex-partner (or another family member) about what’s going to happen to your home, money, children or any other 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

Please help us to make our new guide better

We are writing a guide for people who are divorcing and want to make their agreement about their finances legally binding. If you are in this situation we would love to hear from you, to help us make our guide more useful. Please take a few minutes to do our survey 

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, 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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December 2021
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 are feeling less reasonable and less fair than usual. It is for all of these reasons that many people find it useful to get some help.

A good option is to meet together with your ex and a mediator, who has been properly 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 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 agreeing to in mediation.

When to try family mediation

Often it can be really helpful to try family mediation early on, after deciding to end your relationship. But this does not mean it won’t be helpful later on if you are still having problems or facing new problems if your situation changes. The best time will be when both you and your ex feel ready for it. This may not be at the exact same time! You both need to be willing to go for the process to work. No one can be forced to mediate over a problem. The process must be voluntary.

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

A solicitor is a legal expert who will give you legal advice and prepare court documents for you.  A solicitor can also manage negotiations on your behalf to reach an agreement with your ex, either about arrangements for your children or finances.  The solicitor does not meet your ex and only represents you.  The solicitor does not represent the children. They can also represent you at court or arrange for a barrister to represent you.

A mediator does not give legal advice, and does not represent you or your ex.  They cannot advise you about whether the agreement you reach with your ex is what the court would consider fair or ‘reasonable’. But, they can give you general legal information on the types of orders the court can make in your kind of case. And, they 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.

The 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 main focus.

How family mediation can help you

Mediation gives you and your ex a safe and calm space to speak to each other face to face in privacy.

In a break up there is always hurt and anger. But these can build up more when you don’t have a chance to explain how you feel and talk things through. Mediation gives you the chance to communicate with each other better. This is something the court process cannot really help you do.

Other reasons why family mediation can be a good way to sort things out are:

  • It is a choice - mediation is voluntary. If you both agree to try it you are agreeing that you want to try and sort things out as calmly as possible, to work towards a happier future.
  • It is often much quicker and cheaper than using a solicitor or going to court.
  • You can usually keep a lot more control over the process than if you end up in court. You can make decisions based on what you know about your 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 have avoided having a very hostile break-up.
  • The discussions are private between you, your ex and the mediator and any agreement you reach is confidential.
How mediation works and what to expect

Step 1 - a meeting with the mediator to work out if mediation is for you

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, or as a last resort, by phone.

You’ll be able to tell the mediator all about your situation and what is most important to you.  Your ex will do the same. The mediator will tell you about how mediation works and what the alternatives are, to help you decide what to do next. They will have the same conversation with your ex. 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 can also decide then whether mediation is right for you.

This first meeting is a chance for you to get more information and a better understanding of the process. Sometimes you will hear this information and assessment meeting called a MIAM. We talk more about these in the section called Mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs)

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

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

Step 2 - deciding to go ahead with mediation and attending the sessions

If you decide mediation might be really helpful for you, and your ex agrees, you can organise the first mediation appointment.

Before the mediation starts the mediator has to set out in writing how mediation works in a document called the 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 all your issues, think about your options, decide whether they would work well in practice and come to an agreement about what's best.  This is the aim of mediation, but be aware that any agreement reached is not legally binding - 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 appointments 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 to put your side of the story, particularly if one of you is better at explaining their position than the other.

If you are dealing with decisions about money, the mediator will ask both of you to produce 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 a really long time, 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.

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 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 this guide there are points where you can get expert legal advice from a panel of Resolution lawyers for a reduced fixed fee price. The best place to start is in the section called 'What you need to sort out'. Here you can find the option of an appointment with an expert family lawyer to find out where you stand right now, legally speaking.

Arrangements for your children

If you cannot agree on 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 this guide there are points where you can get expert legal advice from a panel of Resolution lawyers for a reduced fixed fee price. The best place to start is in the section called 'How to sort things out'. Here you can find the option of an appointment with an expert family lawyer to find out where you stand right now, legally speaking.

Regardless of the kinds of issues you need to try and sort out in mediation you can expect that the mediator will ask that you both commit to various things. We list a few of these next. 

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

Getting some legal advice as you go

In between sessions 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, you can 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 to negotiate for you. 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 be made to work, the mediator will write down what you have decided in detail. This document is not legally binding though. 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. 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.

 If you’ve 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 negotiate for you to sort out the final issues.

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, with the help of a mediator. It is not mediation, but a chance to get more information and ask questions about the process. It is essentially the same as the meeting described in Step 1 in the last section. 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; 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 Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. 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 to attend a MIAM either separately or together with your ex. For information on legal aid and the costs of this meeting if you cannot get legal aid, go to the section called Costs.

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.

  • Explain what family mediation and other forms of dispute resolution are and how they work.
  • Explain the benefits of mediation, other forms of dispute resolution, and the likely costs.
  • Answer any questions you have about your situation and how mediation might work for you.
  • Assess whether you are eligible for legal aid for mediation or will have to pay for it.
  • Assess whether mediation, or other form of dispute resolution, is suitable in your case.

Once you have been to the Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting, 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,
  • mental health problems or learning difficulties,
  • drug or alcohol misuse.

If you are not able to agree the issues with your ex and decide to apply to court you will have to go to a MIAM, unless you are in a particular situation that means you are exempt.

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

There are some circumstances when you don’t have to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. 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 or where there has been domestic abuse between you.

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 Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (the law calls this ‘claiming an exemption’) in Practice Direction 3A, paragraph 17 of the Family Procedure Rules.

If you want to claim an exemption from attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting, there is a section of the C100 application form you must complete, if or when you apply for a court order. 

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. There are many different types of abuse including:

  • emotional,
  • psychological,
  • economic,
  • 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.

If you think you may be experiencing domestic abuse, or have done so in the past, from your partner you need to think carefully about whether mediation is for you. If you are thinking about it, use a mediator who is used to working with clients where domestic abuse has been an issue.

If you decide to find out more about it, when you first meet with the mediator they will explain how they can help you to feel safe – this might be you and your ex using separate waiting rooms, arriving and leaving at different times, having separate meetings, or meetings where you and your ex are in different rooms and the mediator goes from one to the other. Another option is that mediation can be carried out by video call with separate virtual ‘rooms’ so that the mediator can speak with you both individually and you don’t have to see each other on the screen or be in the same building.

Mediators are trained to help you decide if mediation is right for you. 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 everyone decides to go ahead, the mediator will keep this in mind at every session. 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. Check if you can get legal aid on the gov.uk website.

Costs (mediation)
Legal aid may 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 can also 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.

To get an idea of whether you might 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. 

For the mediator to work out if you can get legal aid, you need to provide them with information about:

  • your capital (property, savings, investments, or other things of value that you own),
  • your income,
  • your outgoings.

The mediator will tell you what evidence they will need to see. Often, this will include some or all of the following:

  • your latest Universal Credit statement or a letter from a benefits agency confirming you benefits (dated within the last 6 months),
  • you last Tax Credits Award Notice, 
  • bank statements or transaction reports for all accounts in your name for the last month
  •  wage slips covering the last month,
  •  if you are self-employed, your last self-assessment return.

Sometimes, the mediator will also need to see proof of your outgoings and so will need to see:

  • mortgage statement/ rent book or bank statements showing payments for your housing costs,
  • nursery or childcare invoice or receipt or bank statements showing payments for any childcare.

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

The government has just introduced a new scheme to encourage people to mediate. You may be able to get some financial help through this. There is more information on the Family Mediation Council website about the Family mediation voucher scheme.

If you can’t 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 mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) vary. Mediators tend to charge a fixed fee for this meeting which you can choose to split equally. 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 decide, with your ex, to mediate you need to look into the costs and agree who will pay for it. Will you share the costs equally or will one of you pay more or all of 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 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 of the fee. So, for example, an hour’s session might cost around £280 but if it is agreed that you will need an hour and a half the total cost would be half again.

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,
  • summary of your agreed proposals (you might also hear the older name, a Memorandum of understanding, used for this too).

The mediator should tell you in advance how their fees work and also make it very clear what you will need to pay, the Agreement to Mediate. 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 £300 for that, and a further £800 - £1000 to get any agreement about finances made into a court order. When you are looking for a mediator or a solicitor, don’t be afraid to phone around and compare prices.

How to find a good 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 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.

Anyone can call themselves a family mediator, so it is important to choose someone you can be sure is well trained and experienced. You can read more about this on the Family Mediation Council website. All Family Mediation Council registered mediators must follow a code of practice to maintain good standards in their work. If you are interested, you can find the code of practice on the Family Mediation Council website.

All the mediators included on the Family Medication Council website have been trained by providers approved by the Family Mediation Council and most are also accredited, which means that they are experienced mediators. Not all mediators do Legal Aid funded mediation, but those who do must be accredited – you can search for them by ticking the middle box on the search tool.

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, explains in the results how long the mediator has been a family law solicitor.  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.

Don’t 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, and cheaper).
  • How many mediations do they do each year?  (Try to choose an experienced mediator who does many sessions each year).
  • How much is the Information and Assessment meeting?
  • How much will each mediation session cost each of you?
  • If there are any other additional fees (for example, is there a separate cost for writing up the agreement at the end)?
  • 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 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 lawyer’s name 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 lawyer via the gov.uk website.

Some family law specialists do extra training in an approach to solving legal problems called collaborative law. 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.

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

Preparing for mediation to get the most out of the process

If you agree with your ex 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?

Nobody has to use mediation. But if you want to go to court over a family problem (like how to divide money or property after splitting up or where the children should live, for example) you have to show the court that you have met with a mediator first and considered mediation properly. 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 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’. 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’s 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 the 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.

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’ll see their other parent. 

You can read more about child inclusive mediation, where children and young people get heard by mediator, as well as the adults, on the Family Mediation Council website.

I wouldn’t 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 very hard to enforce anyway especially if the children are older than around 12 years old, coming to agreements that work for everyone involved is probably still your best option.

I’m 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, and another is collaborative practice.

Hybrid mediation is where you go to mediation with your solicitor, who gives you legal advice right there and then, rather than in between mediation sessions. Your ex also needs to have their solicitor present. This approach can speed the whole process up and so ultimately can save money.

Collaborative practice involves you and your solicitor meet with your ex and his/her 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 won’t be biased?

Mediators are trained to be unbiased. They won’t 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. 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. But it does depend 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, even if the mediator charges as much per hour as the solicitor, there is only one mediation charge, which you can share with your ex.

If you can’t come to an agreement or have only agreed on some things, you have to pay for the mediation and for whatever solicitors 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 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 souring 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 have to show the court that you have met with a mediator first and considered mediation. In practice very few cases end up in a court hearing, and for good reason.  You have to wait a long time for court proceedings and for most people it costs a small fortune - 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.

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What to do if you can’t 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 can’t 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 doesn’t 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. Involving solicitors may add to hostilities between you and your ex, which might not feel like a problem now but will be unhelpful in the long term.

Some people can’t agree even with help from solicitors and have to take the issue to court so that the court can decide. Going to court though 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, most people have to show that they have thought about using mediation. 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.

Arbitration can be an alternative to going to court. It is almost like a private version of the court process. It involves a senior 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 isn’t cheap is 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? (mediation guide)

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 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.

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. 

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. You can find lots of information and support on their website about how to parent your children well with your ex, during and long after your separation. 

Gingerbread provides expert advice, practical support and other help for single parents.

Single Parent Helpline: 0808 802 0925

Monday - 10am - 6pm, Tuesday - 10am - 4pm, Wednesday - 10am - 1pm and 5pm-7pm, Thursday and Friday - 10am - 4pm.

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 - 9am- 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.

Information line: 0115 948 4557 Monday to Friday 9am until 1pm.

Domestic violence and 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 violence or abuse you can contact the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327. 

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

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.

You can also find a family lawyer via the gov.uk website.

Some family law specialists do extra training in an approach to solving legal problems called collaborative law. 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 9.30am - 4.30pm. 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

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.

Can you help us?

We hope you found this guide helpful. Can you support this guide with a donation? To donate just go to our Donate page.

We are always trying to improve our service. If you have any comments on what you like or don’t like about this guide please go to our Feedback page. 

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I didn't know what to expect from mediation and was nervous about facing up to difficult conversations with my ex. This helped me to prepare for the sessions and go in feeling more confident.
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Answered my questions without being patronising

Wasn't sure mediation would work for us - but have now tried it on the strength of this guide.
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was good to know what to expect and prices.
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