I, like many others, watched the first episode of the BBC2 programme Mr v Mrs Call the Mediator. Frustrated mediators for years now have been asking for there to be greater awareness of mediation as an option for separating couples who wish to resolve their children and/or financial issues. I think that this programme has created that awareness and it’s certainly been a talking point since the first programme aired on Tuesday 21st June. That’s positive and a better message than we often hear in soaps and in the media about ‘greedy lawyers’ and ‘taking people to Court.’ Since the programme, I’ve had many solicitors, mediators, friends, family and clients who have often wanted to know what goes on in mediation asking me questions following the programme. Is mediation really like that? Which mediator did you like? Did you agree with the way the mediator managed the process? Is that what you do?
First and foremost, I have huge respect for the couples and the mediators brave enough to be recorded for this programme. Any couple who decides to sit in a room together to address their conflict deserves respect. The human element, the pain that people go through, the fears they experience about their financial future are all common to many mediations I conduct on a daily basis. Mediators do amazing, deeply satisfying work on a daily basis. However, there are also many fundamentals which, as a mediator who is legally trained I was left wanting to redress. Of course any mainstream television programme will focus on the ‘people’ and the ‘stories’ rather than the process but I would not want anyone thinking of mediating to be under any illusions about what it involves. It’s emotionally tiring. It can be stressful but it’s also hugely beneficial if you are committed to making the process work. It’s a structured, safe process but it’s also hugely flexible and often creates good, lasting, positive outcomes.
- It’s not about Mr v Mrs.It’s about individuals managing often one of the worst time of their lives with dignity, respect and professional help to manage their emotions and make informed decisions about their futures. It’s not one pitted against the other in a battle. That’s what we are hoping to avoid. Court often creates a Mr v Mrs effect. Mediation does not.
- We do ask for financial disclosure from the outset. We saw Peter and Sue mediating regarding their financial matters and it appeared that there had not been any financial disclosure. Exchanging financial information is essential in any financial mediation. As mediators, we want couples to negotiate on an informed basis and exchanging financial information is the best way to achieve this. This exchange of financial information takes place at the outset. We produce a summary of the financial disclosure in our role as a mediator.
- We want people thinking and making informed choices. We heard how Sue felt that she was struggling to participate and make decisions. We saw the support she felt she needed from her partner. As a mediator, we help address any power imbalances, we give information to ensure that both parties to a mediation are able to fully and freely participate.
- We address any power imbalances. Many felt sorry for Peter and from a human level that may be understandable but if one party is more used to the financial matters (Peter was an accountant) we balance this for the other party so both feel in control in the process. That may include helping parties manage their external influences, such as Sue’s new partner and sometimes ‘sell’ to those that care for them the decisions they have made so any proposals are less likely to be challenged.
- Mediators who are legally trained will give legal information during the process. This is not the same as legal advice which is provided by a solicitor alongside the mediation if you wish. We can talk to you about how a Court may approach a legal issue, we can explain the Orders the Court can make, we can help your easily test your options and make sure you have all of the information you need to make the best possible decisions.
- You are entitled to legal advice during mediation. It is often helpful to receive advice not necessarily on the basis of what is the best that you could achieve if you went to Court but the boundaries of what is reasonable which can help you in the negotiation which arguably can be one of the most important negotiations of your life. It is helpful to receive that advice as you progress with mediation. Mediation often works best alongside a legal process which does not have to be acrimonious.
- Where children are concerned, we want to help parents to put children at the heart of their discussions and to make decisions based on what is in the best interests of the children not on the basis of their relationship or feelings about the other parent. We know how difficult this is to put into practice and we will help you with this.
- We work with other professionals, which include family consultants, counsellors, therapists who can help you work through the emotional issues which can sometimes cause you to become stuck.
- If you want to improve communication the best way to do this is by talking together and being able to listen to what the other person is saying. Shuttle mediation can be offered in appropriate circumstances but the hope would be that even if mediation begins on a shuttle basis you may feel able to move to face to face mediation during the course of the sessions.
- Mediation is one way of addressing issues on separation. It’s not Mediation or Court. If mediation isn’t right for you, arbitration may be. If arbitration is not right, a round table meeting with solicitors may be. There are many ways of resolving your children or financial issues and finding the right process for you and your family is as important as the process itself.
- Finding the right mediator for you is key. Mediators are impartial. We are all individual with different skills and personalities. Research your mediator. Find out what their approach is, ask how long they have been mediating, ask if they are accredited which demonstrates that their skills and practical experience have been assessed, ask how often they mediate, find out if they are legally trained, ask about their background, check what they charge and ask for any testimonials from other clients who have been in the mediation process with them if available. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions before you choose your mediator.