In this resource we take a look at the second stage of mediation after you and your ex-partner have attended your MIAMs and you are entering into joint mediation sessions.
What happens where there are Children Arrangement Issues Only?
When mediation is required purely to deal with issues surrounding children, then the mediator’s role is to help you successfully move forward as separated parents. Although generally speaking, mediation is usually between ex-partners, it is also available for grandparents who wish to see their grandchildren.
The mediator will help you discuss and acknowledge what is in the best interests of your children, removing the emotion and differences that have been experienced between the adults involved in the separation and could cloud your judgments as to what issues need to be addressed in relation to your children. Generally, parents both want what is going to be best for their children, but this can get lost in separation, so helping you to focus on the children’s interests and recognising their needs ensures that their needs continue to be met even if you are no longer a couple. The mediator can also help you to find ways to show any children involved that despite the separation, that you are both working together to do what is best for them and how to effectively co-parent. Through mediation you can ensure as parents that any decisions taken in relation to your children are made by you as parents rather than an outside authority who will not know your children or the situation as well as you both do.
Joint mediation sessions will address these issues, concerns that either one of you may have regarding the parenting of any children and help you both to come up with a plan that is workable for the two of you. Once points have been agreed upon by both you and your ex-partner and a plan established, then a Parenting Plan is produced by the mediator. This is a comprehensive document detailing a summary of discussions that have taken place throughout the mediation process and decisions that have been reached regarding your children and how you will both co-parent in the future. The Parenting Plan is confidential and legally privileged meaning that it cannot be used in any future legal disputes. It is also not legally binding meaning that the arrangements made in it cannot be enforced in any way. However, evidence shows that parties are more likely to stick to an arrangement where it has been mutually decided upon. If you or your ex-partner really want to make it legally binding, then the document can be taken to a solicitor and made legally binding.
Keynote – If you are attending mediation because of child maintenance issues then this would still be classified as child arrangements issues and not finances.
What happens in a joint family mediation session where finances are involved?
Where finances and/or property are involved, the mediator will help to clarify exactly what assets are involved. This includes details of both yours and your ex-partners property, income, future pensions, things of value and full expenditure etc. In order to establish these things a process called Disclosure is required. This is the name given to the process whereby each party is required to give a full and honest breakdown of every asset both joint and individual. It also includes anything that may effectively belong to someone else but is still in your name e.g. children’s savings accounts etc. Disclosure and the listing of all assets does not necessarily mean that all assets will automatically be split in a certain way, as there may be certain things that you or your ex have already decided upon or that you feel are yours and should not be shared. But by cataloguing absolutely everything in this way means that you are both fully informed of all the figures before making any decisions, that then cannot be changed.
Disclosure ensures that the issues important to you are prioritised and that areas of both agreement and disagreement can be highlighted so that a mutually equitable outcome can be reached. It ensures that nothing is missing and where documents or information appear to be missing, the mediation process can identify those areas and signpost you to services or advice that you may require, so that things remain equally fair for both parties. The mediator will help you both to decide upon things and find a solution to your own situation. They can help you to come up with proposals that are acceptable to both you and your ex-partner rather than remaining in a stale mate.
How does a joint family mediation session work?
In the first joint mediation session, the mediator will provide you with a summary of information (rules) that was provided in the MIAM which includes confidentiality, safeguarding, respect, taking breaks etc. They will then provide you with an Agreement to Mediate otherwise known as a mediation agreement. You will be required to sign this document in order to carry on with the process. In signing you are acknowledging the process of mediation, information around confidentiality, data protection, the costs, and how you can make a complaint. After this, the mediator will then ask each party if they have any questions, before then asking each party to explain why they are in mediation. Once each party has spoken the Mediator and the parties will then work together to set the agenda. The aim of setting the agenda is to ensure that both parties are being heard and that topics they feel need to be discussed are being discussed and also to prioritise issues and ensure that there is a structure for each mediation session. From the agenda you and your ex-partner with the facilitation of the mediator, will then explore the issues surrounding child arrangements and finances.
Subsequent meetings will be slightly different in that the mediator will re-establish the rules and then ask whether you have any questions, before continuing to work through the agenda.
Joint mediation sessions can take place as often as the parties require. Usually they can last anything from a couple of months to several months depending on how quickly the parties are reaching agreements.
What is Shuttle Mediation?
In cases where the mediator has assessed and decided that it is not an option for you to be in a room with your ex-partner, they may discuss with you the option of shuttle mediation. This is where parties arrive at separate times and have separate rooms. Shuttle Mediation has an increased time duration of 2 hours compared to mediating in the same room. The mediator would mediate from room to room, relaying messages on between each party. Shuttle mediation usually helps parties to feel safe as well as giving them confidence to speak openly.
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