Recently I was privileged to be appointed by a couple who wished to use the mediation process to talk about the arrangements for their children following their separation, to work through their joint family pot and to decide how they should divide their assets to be able to move on with their lives. I didn’t get to conclude their mediation in the traditional sense of seeing them through to a mediated set of proposals, yet ironically this demonstrated the value of mediation and what we define in the world of mediation as a ‘success.’
I met this couple at the beginning of July. By way of understanding, I always meet with any prospective mediation clients individually at an initial meeting known as a mediation information and assessment meeting. As the neutral party, I know little about their circumstances when I am first appointed other than names and addresses. I therefore seek to understand from each of their perspectives what they hope to achieve in mediation, to understand the dynamics between them and to consider in detail whether the process will be suitable for them. Having met with them, I felt the process of mediation would be suitable and they both wished to progress.
Their first joint mediation meeting took place within 3 weeks of those initial individual meetings. We started exploring their concerns about how their children could be best supported, their emotional well being and practically what the separation might look like for them in terms of the time they would spend with each of their parents. We were able to work through a plan of arrangements which both felt would be in their children’s best interests. We then discussed how best to move forward with the resolution of their financial matters. This involved each of them completing a detailed financial statement known as a Form E and providing each other with their financial disclosure. This is a key part of any process where couples want to look at their financial position and how they may divide their assets. Many couples do not fully know their joint financial position and for discussions to take place on an informed basis, this process of exchanging their information and exploring their pot together is a key foundation. This form is onerous so allowing for their own work and home commitments we scheduled to meet again in mid-September.
The exchange of their financial information was dealt with collaboratively in the process and by the time we met again each had the full financial picture. We met to discuss this, working through their pot carefully. By this point, this couple had made the difficult decision to sell their family home and were in the fortunate position mid pandemic to have sold their house for a good price. Not only that, they had each identified new homes which they wanted to purchase and offers had been accepted. They were ready to move on emotionally and practically. This presented a need to move quickly so we met again within 3 days for a third mediation meeting. At the conclusion of this meeting, both were clear on their individual financial positions and their joint family pot and prepared to enter into financial negotiations. This preparation took place in mediation. It involved not just the practical aspects of negotiations such as the information they would need but the mindset. The ability to understand that they would want different things and indeed were likely to receive conflicting advice from their solicitors. The awareness of finding compromise, letting go of what was not important and focusing on finding the best possible joint resolution.
This couple then returned to their solicitors for a round table meeting where they were able to negotiate an agreement which could then quickly be incorporated into a consent order to be submitted to the court enabling them to safely move forward with their house sale and purchases.
You may be thinking – well why is this a success from a mediation point of view? The success is the flexibility of mediation to adapt to the needs of the client. This couple needed to get a binding outcome which could be fast tracked through to the court so they did not lose their house purchases. Mediation enabled a process of exchange of financial information in just two mediation meetings, three days apart. The cost of these two meetings was less than £500 each. To give some perspective, if they were to have exchanged financial statements through a solicitor process and then reviewed that financial exchange with their solicitors the cost to them individually would have been in the region of £2,500 – £3,500 each. With the greatest will in the world, very few solicitors would not have been able to do that within 3 days. It could take 6 weeks but more commonly the whole process, if dealt with by letter takes 3 months. I say this with respect to the solicitor process of exchange of financial information and I base these cost estimates and timescales on my own professional fees / experience when I was in practice (at the rate of Director). Some solicitors would charge less and some would charge more. Some solicitors would take less time whereas others might take longer.
Setting aside the cost and time saving, I believe the main benefit was the work involved in mediation in preparing the mindset for successful financial negotiations. We work on this carefully in mediation. By doing so, each of the parties has an understanding of what the other persons position is likely to be, we talk openly about what each of their preferences may be, we deal with the fact that they are likely to have received conflicting legal advice and normalise all of these differences. In doing so, clients are best placed to find a compromise focusing on what is really important. Finding a solution which both of them can live with and enables them to move forward, respectfully. This will benefit them individually in continuing their emotional recovery but most importantly will enable them to focus on the most important people in their lives – their children.