Ruth Hawkins


Boardman, Hawkins & Osborne LLP

THIS week is Family Mediation Week. It is designed to highlight and raise awareness of the benefits of using family mediation to resolve family disputes and issues rather than the more traditional, often more conflicting, approaches involving court proceedings or using lawyers to resolve things.

One of the key aims of family mediation is to reduce conflict and improve communication between the parties. That is particularly important when there are children, but even when there are not, they may be very good reasons to attempt to keep relations civil and constructive and to maintain communication after couples have separated. Couples may work or be in business together; they may have mutual friends or interests; they may want to maintain connections with their in laws. Just because a couple is separating, doesn’t mean that everything about their relationship needs to turn sour or become difficult.

It is however really important when there are children involved that if possible, and where it is safe to do so, that parents try and work together to resolve their differences, and mediation is a great tool to use to try and achieve this.

There are also often pragmatic and practical reasons for trying to use family mediation to resolve issues. For starters, it is often a very cost effective way of resolving things. I often say that agreeing things is something that calm rational, non emotional people can often do without third party intervention. But the problem is that when emotions are raw, or when the parties separating are in different stages or separation, or have different agendas, it is often impossible to reach agreements without third party assistance. Of course you can try and sort things out across the kitchen table, or in the pub or coffee shop. But most people can’t. They need help. And picking a qualified experienced family mediator, who can act as a neutral, impartial facilitator, providing a neutral venue to aid discussions and hopefully agreement, is a really good first step.

Paying one mediator between you, is likely to be more cost effective than each of you separately funding lawyers to correspond over issues.

There may be other good reasons to think about family mediation. Certainly it can have big advantages over litigation - court proceedings. Our family court system is currently struggling. Courts are increasingly busy, and over stretched and under resourced. There is an increase in child protection cases coming before the courts. The family courts are struggling to keep up with demands dealing with those cases, and my experience is that ‘private family law’ cases, ie those cases between parents, or between husbands and wives, are often listed some way off, and can very often be adjourned off at short notice to make way for urgent cases. Cases come to court with other urgent matters listed before them, and time spent in court can often mean lots of waiting around, often without private rooms to use or a café to get a drink from, waiting for your case to be called on.

However, if you decide to use a family mediator to assist you in resolving your family dispute, very often you have control over when, where, and how quickly your dispute can be dealt with. Similarly with using Family Arbitration.

As well as cost, and control, and improved communication, I would suggest that agreements reached in family mediation can often stand the test of time, as couples will have explored options in mediation, and the mediator will have helped ‘reality test’ proposals with the couple, based upon their own circumstances. It is often a better way of finding solutions, rather than have a judge or a bench of magistrates impose a solution on you both. Very often, neither party will be happy with orders imposed.

Of course it is not a solution for everyone. A family mediator will only agree to mediate where it is safe to do so. It will often not be suitable where there is domestic abuse or where there is an imbalance in control. But where it is appropriate, it can be a very effective and powerful tool to help couples resolve the many disputes that arise when couple have separated or are in the process of separating.