The Case for Family Mediation
For many, the stress and expense of litigating within the UK family court can seem excessive, even to the point of outweighing what is gained through resolution.
In this feature, Buckles Solicitors senior associate Sonia Rola takes a look at what mediation stands to offer instead. Can it be an effective solution for families who may not otherwise have their disputes heard?
16 January marked the first day of Family Mediation Week, which is an opportunity to raise awareness of the benefits it can bring to those who have made the decision to end a formal relationship. Family mediation helps people take control, make decisions together and build a positive future for their family, whilst reducing the potential for hostility.
Family Mediation Just Makes Sense
Unless there is a safeguarding issue – namely unless you are at a risk of life or limb – now more than ever you should consider almost anything but the family courts, especially when it comes to children law applications. A children law application will inevitably cause further delay and add to the cost (if you can afford legal representation).
In a recent poll by Resolution, a membership organisation for family law professionals committed to working in a constructive way, over half of the family lawyers surveyed said it now takes an average of between one and two years to resolve family disputes after making an initial children law court application. That time delay could lead to serious consequences to the overall outcome of a court’s decision, especially due to the status quo that may have been developed in the meantime whilst a parent waited for a final hearing.
“New data from HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has once again highlighted the devastating delays and backlogs that continue to hamper the family courts,” the Divorce Surgery UK said in a 2022 release. “As of September, the backlog is sitting at 110,425 cases – a 2% month-on-month increase. This is also a striking increase of 6.4% from the figure of 103,790 seen in September 2021.”
Children Law Applications Make the Case for Mediation
When parents embark on the uncharted waters that are contested children law applications, this may further damage what is probably an already hostile environment within a separating family.
Whilst parents fight it out during the court process, i.e. by asking a stranger to decide on their private family life instead of making their own decision, parents may also risk losing or indeed lose the possibility of there being any future positive communication with one another. This situation, at least in the short term, will inevitably impact your child and cause further unnecessary stress and anxiety to all concerned. No child is built for conflict; they should be allowed to just be children, unburdened.
Unless there is a safeguarding issue – namely unless you are at a risk of life or limb – now more than ever you should consider almost anything but the family courts, especially when it comes to children law applications.
Further, in the near future, the family courts will open its doors to the public. Conflict is often a destructive thing, so what is the answer for separating families?
Mediation remains a very underused tool, which is why it needs an awareness week. It could provide a parent a lifeline and a much-needed opportunity for them to be the best parent that they can be, in a supported space.
Thanks to its very flexible and fluid approach, family mediation offers almost endless possibilities to achieve an acceptable solution. Parents can openly discuss between themselves their child’s specific needs and what is or is not going to work for them, as well as issues that the courts may not necessarily cover or indeed even be interested in.
Family mediation can often help parents communicate more effectively. It can provide for a far more authentic way of parenting, offering concerned parents the opportunity of a private supported conversation in a safe space.
Mediate to Save Time, Money and Frustrations
Not only is family mediation typically a quicker and less expensive method to resolve your child arrangements, but it is far more likely that during the process, both parents will be given an opportunity to consider and discuss how the child feels about the outcome, whilst providing the parents with helpful signposting.
In complicated cases, it is possible to co-mediate with another mediator, such as when there are different jurisdictions or laws to consider. Parents could also agree that any solution covers different jurisdictions, without the added expense of applying for mirror orders within different jurisdictions and therefore avoid this further unnecessary cost and delay.
However, there are also some drawbacks to mediation. It is not legally binding and private, so any discussions from such mediation sessions cannot be used in open correspondence or proceedings at a later stage. Further, if parties change their mind, they will need to start the process all over again and go to court, which would be the same process as if parties decided to vary an existing court order(s).
It is now possible to mediate online, which is useful for those clients who live far away or abroad, as it also saves time and travel costs for all concerned. Parents could agree on a parenting plan to use as a template between themselves and then continue to modify this, catering to the child’s specific needs as they grow up.
In conclusion, it is far more likely that family mediation will help to ensure that a child of separating parents will retain and enjoy their loving connection with their parents and family homes instead of simply dividing their time between two different houses.
Sonia Rola, Senior Associate Solicitor & Accredited Family Mediator
Summit House, 12 Red Lion Square, London, WC1R 4QH, UK
Tel: +44 02070 527826
Sonia Rola is a member of Resolution and a senior associate at Buckles Solicitors specialising in family law. With over 20 years’ worth of experience in the sector, Sonia aids clients in complex financial disputes and all aspects of children law both in the UK and internationally. She also undertakes her own advocacy in court and provides pro bono services to various charitable organisations to better enable her clients to understand their rights.
Buckles Solicitors is a UK law firm that provides international, commercial and private client legal solutions for businesses and individuals.