In the previous part of the article, we delved into the essential concept of family mediation, highlighting its voluntary, confidential, and privileged nature in resolving disputes. We discussed how a neutral mediator facilitates discussions, empowering parties to reach informed decisions. This approach is endorsed by judges and supported by government initiatives like the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme. Furthermore, we explored different mediation types, including sole, co-mediation, and anchor mediation, each tailored to specific needs. We emphasized the mediator’s pivotal role in ensuring fair communication and the involvement of lawyers in offering legal advice outside the mediation process. Active participation and comprehensive understanding from all parties are pivotal for achieving successful mediation outcomes.

Preparing for family mediation

Mediator: preparation and screening

Parties may make direct contact with a mediator or be referred to a mediator or mediation service by their lawyer or another professional third party. Once a party makes contact, the mediator will undertake the following preliminary tasks:

  • Obtain contact details for both parties.
  • Speak to each party separately to establish their willingness to mediate and commitment to the process.
  • Ensure that both parties are entering into the mediation process freely and voluntarily without pressure or influence from the other.
  • Send both parties information about mediation and a mediation information form for completion. The mediation information form will supply the mediator with the parties’ contact details, factual information about the parties and their children and details about how the mediation will be funded. The form will also request a summary of the issues in dispute.
  • Arrange initial meetings with each party.

During the preliminary meetings with each party (also known as the intake or point of entry phase in mediation), the mediator will review the completed mediation information form and conduct screening to assess whether mediation is an appropriate forum in which to resolve the dispute.

When screening the parties, the mediator will establish whether:

  • Both parties have the mental and emotional stamina to participate in the mediation process.
  • There has been any domestic violence, abuse or intimidation (whether physical or emotional) between the parties, as this may give rise to a power imbalance that would militate against the parties mediating.
  • The nature of the parties’ relationship. In particular, whether there are any features that may prevent communication, such as manipulative or intimidating behaviour by either party.
  • The parties are capable of being flexible and whether they each demonstrate a willingness to compromise with each other.

During these individual meetings, the mediator will review the agreement to mediate with each party. This is the contract made between the mediator and the parties. The mediator or mediation service will have standard agreements to mediate which set out details of the following:

  • The basis on which mediation will be conducted.
  • Confidentiality and privilege within mediation.
  • The mediator’s fees.
  • The code of practice that the mediator adheres to.
  • Any complaints procedure.

The mediator will check whether the standard agreement to mediate is sufficient or whether the terms need to be amended. The agreement will either be signed at this stage or during the first mediation session. The mediator will also use the initial meetings with the parties to identify any urgent issues that need to be discussed at the first mediation session and agree a venue for future sessions.

The mediator may also ask the parties to each prepare anchor statements before the first joint mediation session.

Preparing a party for mediation

It is critical to the success of mediation that both parties are committed to the mediation process. Following their individual meetings with the mediator, both parties must prepare their anchor statements. If you have been referred to mediation, it is important that you:

  • Complete and return the mediation information form to the mediator.
  • Think about your interests and priorities and what they want to achieve in mediation.
  • Approach the mediation process with a flexible mindset.
  • Stand in the other party’s shoes and see the dispute from their perspective, so that you have a better understanding of the issue and how it can be resolved to the parties’ mutual satisfaction.
  • Actively listen to the other party in mediation and consider their concerns and feelings.
  • Consider all options that are discussed with an open mind, to prevent an impasse being reached.
  • Think about creative solutions to address the other party’s concerns.
  • Identify potential settlement options.
  • Actively assess options that are discussed in the mediation process.
  • Consider items for the agenda for the first mediation session, particularly if there are urgent issues to be addressed.

In mediation concerning a financial dispute on relationship breakdown, the mediator and the parties may find it helpful to have the following available during the mediation sessions:

  • Financial disclosure that has already been exchanged, together with any supporting documents.
  • Agreed asset schedules.
  • Valuations and single joint expert reports.
  • Property particulars.
  • Proposals for settlement and counter offers.
  • An agreed summary of the issues in dispute.
  • Information about the legal costs incurred to date.

In a dispute about a child, it may help to make relevant information and documents available during the mediation sessions. This could include the following:

  • School and medical reports.
  • Independent Schools Council or Ofsted reports.
  • School brochures, if mediating about choice of schools due to relocation.
  • Route or journey planners from the parties’ homes to school.
  • Sufficient copies of calendars marking out proposed contact dates during term time and school holidays.
  • Court orders.

Depending on the nature of the dispute about a child, the parties should consider whether the child should be involved in the mediation process. Both parties would need to agree on the extent of the child’s participation. If the child is to participate, the mediator needs to be trained and qualified to conduct mediation with children.