Can You Afford Not to Mediate?
In the last of months I have successfully mediated a couple of cases where the answer to this was starkly illustrated.
In the first case, the couple had instructed solicitors from London and the South East. The couple had assets of several million pounds, including a number of properties and other investments. In less than 12 months they had between them accumulated legal costs exceeding £20,000.
In the second case, the couple had significantly less resources, but in a period of six years since separating they had accumulated between them legal costs of in excess of £25,000.
No financial agreement had been reached in either case. No applications had been made to the Court asking for a Financial Orders either. There had been a lot of letters written. Financial documents had been exchanged and in one case there had been a meeting between each client with their Solicitors; but no agreement.
As a solicitor, my philosophy is always to explore whether a case can be resolved quickly and amicably. If this is not possible then an application should be made to the Court. Negotiations can continue, but if there is no agreement, the Court will make a decision. I seek to avoid drift. When the final agreement/order is achieved there is finality and the costs stop.
But Mediation is quicker than a Court process. In the above mediation cases we found a solution to all outstanding issues in two and three joint meetings. All four of my clients were very pleased with the outcomes and these were completed for a fraction of the costs they had already incurred, and for a fraction of their likely costs should be cases have proceeded to Court.
What is Mediation?
Mediation is a process of negotiation. An independent mediator will assist the participants to undertake confidential negotiations. The mediator will ensure that the negotiations are focused and will assist the couple to make informed decisions.
The advantage of a Solicitor Mediator
As a Solicitor Mediator I am able to assist my clients by ensuring that they understand how the relevant law affects their situation and their options (as a mediator I can give information but not advice). It is easy for me to identify when legal advice is required by either or both to enable them to make informed decisions. I am able to frame questions for my clients so that they take advice in a more focused way.
My clients also have confidence that I have been practising as a specialist in family law solicitor for more than 22 years (I have been a family mediator for a mere 18 years) and therefore I use my experience to assist my mediation clients to achieve a fair outcome to their negotiations.
There is no getting away from the fact that legal representation can be very expensive. The “going rate” for advice from an experienced Family Law Solicitor in Exeter is in excess of £200 plus VAT per hour. Although I currently charge £150 plus VAT per hour, costs can still accumulate quickly. My charges for mediation are based on £80 plus VAT per person per hour. The maths are simple. A successful mediation can be completed in a fraction of the time and cost of contested court proceedings.
Or possibly free
If one person is eligible for legal aid for mediation, then for them. The mediation will be FREE as their costs will be paid by the Legal Aid Agency. The legal aid scheme for mediation is being extended in autumn 2014 so that when one of the couple is eligible for legal aid, the Legal Aid Agency will pay for the other to have a free joint mediation meeting as well.
Planning for success
I always meet with each of the couple separately before we arrange a joint meeting. I do this in order to get to know each of the couple and to understand what the issues are. I also do this so that I can form a good view as to whether mediation is viable and to consider how mediation can be set up to maximise the prospects of success. If I do not think that there is a realistic prospect of getting somewhere then we will not start.
Sometimes people can be sceptical about whether mediation can help. Having an initial discussion means that both can find out more at minimal cost. A good starting point to finding a solution to a problem is both of the couple being willing to come in and meet me for a chat. Also, both recognising that there is a problem that needs to be solved and both realising that things cannot go on as they are.