Family mediation and arbitration
What is family mediation?
Family mediation is a way of helping couples who are separating or dissolving their civil partnership to sort out disagreements and reach decisions about things like money, property and looking after the children. To use mediation, you both have to be willing to go along voluntarily. You can refer yourself or be referred by a solicitor or adviser. If you are involved in court proceedings, the court may refer you to mediation, or if there are children involved, to a CAFCASS officer.
An independent trained mediator meets you both (this can be separately or together) to understand the issues between you and help you reach an agreement. At the end of the mediation process, the mediator will write up the proposed agreement and check that both parties understand what this would mean for them. You may wish to get legal advice from a solicitor. For example, if you want the mediated agreement to be turned into a legally binding agreement.
What are the benefits of family mediation
The benefits of mediation are:
- it gives couples a greater say in what happens
- it’s less stressful and involves less conflict than going to court
- it improves communication between couples
- it’s quicker and cheaper than court action
- agreements can be changed when circumstances change
- it considers the needs of children above the feelings of the parties
- it is less upsetting for children involved and helps them continue important family relationships.
When to use family mediation
A couple can use family mediation services as soon as they have decided their relationship is ending and they feel able to discuss any disputes. Mediation can be helpful before legal proceedings begin, to encourage co-operation between the couple and to prevent disputes from getting worse and agreement becoming harder to reach in the future. Family mediation can also be used after a separation or dissolution if new issues arise or there are outstanding issues to be resolved.
If you want to apply to the court for an order to settle a disagreement about the children, money or property, in most cases you will be expected to contact a mediator and arrange a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting to see if you can resolve the dispute without going to court. The meeting can take place jointly or separately. There will be some situations where you will not need to attend a meeting, for example, where the police are investigating domestic violence.
Paying for mediation
You may be able to apply for legal aid to get financial help with the costs of family mediation. If you cannot get legal aid, you will have to pay privately for it. You should ask the mediator for a break-down of their charges as these may vary. You should ask about the options and shop around.
You can receive a free mediation session if one of you is getting legal aid.
For more information on financial help with the legal costs of family mediation, see Help with legal costs.
Finding a mediator
You can find a mediator on the Family Mediation Council’s website atwww.familymediationcouncil.org.uk.
Find out more about mediation
You can find out more about mediation at www.justice.gov.uk .
Court-based dispute resolution
If you ask a court to make decisions about arrangements for your children at the end of your civil partnership, they will usually ask a CAFCASS officer to get involved.
CAFCASS officers work for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS). They are independent of the courts and other agencies such as social services, education and health authorities. They are qualified in social work and experienced in working with children and families.
The CAFCASS officer will try and help you and your partner work out the best possible arrangements for your children.
Sometimes the court will ask you and your partner, and any other parents involved, to meet with the CAFCASS officer to see if you can sort things out without having to go on with the court case. If you can come to an agreement at this stage, the judge can make an order to confirm what was agreed.
If you can’t come to an agreement, the judge can order that a report is produced before the case goes any further.
Court-based dispute resolution schemes are free.
Family arbitration is a form of dispute resolution which enables couples to reach an agreement about family disputes without going to court. In contrast to family mediation, it is a more formal process and is similar to court proceedings. In addition, an arbitrator’s decision, known as an award, is final and binding on the parties.
At present, family arbitration is available only through the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA) Scheme. The Scheme covers financial and property disputes on relationship breakdown. It does not cover disputes about children, except for financial disputes.
IFLA strongly recommends you get legal advice before entering into an arbitration agreement.
You cannot get legal aid for arbitration.
For more information about how to apply for arbitration and about the Scheme’s rules, contact IFLA at:
The Money Advice Service, Divorce and Separation website
The Advicenow website
National Family Mediation website
Information about separation, divorce and family mediation is available from the National Family Mediation website at: www.nfm.org.uk.
Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS)
Applies to Civil Partnership Dissolution in England & Wales.