Mediation: taking a leap of faith

Family Mediation in Honiton, East Devon, Exeter and Taunton

As you know we are both a specialist family law solicitors legal practice and a mediation service undertaking both family mediation and mediation in civil and commercial disputes. These two sides to the practice are very different.

As a solicitor, I advise my clients of the different options open to them and give them my professional view of the best path for them to choose.

As a mediator. I do not give advice, but my role is to help the parties in mediation equally in their desire to achieve a solution to their problem.

When I am instructed as a solicitor in family law cases such as divorce or financial disputes between cohabitants or on child contact issues; after exploring with my client whether any safety issues arise, I will often make referrals to mediation. When mediation has commenced, I am able to support my client through that process, both with legal advice and also in helping them to understand the intricacies of mediation and how they are able to make the most of the process and the opportunity that it presents to them.

I am pleased to say that when I make referrals of my clients to mediation that more often than not mediation takes place and my clients achieve positive outcomes. When I make referrals, I am careful in choosing mediators who I believe are suited to the particular problem and to the personalities of my client and the other party.

Choosing the right Family Mediator

Fortunately, because I have practiced in the South West and in particular in Devon for some 15 years, and because I have been active in the local family law solicitor and family mediation communities (for example, by being on the committee of the Devon Region of Resolution for 10 years, including three years as elected chair, and by being a founding member of the Devon Collaborative Lawyers POD), I know the different personalities and practices, and their different styles.

When making a referral I will make a referral to a specific individual, rather than to a practice. I try to make referrals into mediation at a point where there is a reasonable prospect of the other person being prepared to give mediation try. My approach seems to work quite well and as a consequence, my legal clients are able to take advantage of mediation and achieve good outcomes to their cases and at the same time minimise their overall costs.

Receiving referrals as a Family Mediator

As a mediator, I receive referrals from a number of solicitors from around East Devon, Exeter and Taunton, as well as being approached directly by clients who wish to mediate.

Most often, the person who is making enquiry, or has been referred to me is very willing to enter into mediation with the other person. It is however frustrating that quite often the other person is unwilling to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) or if they do, there can be a reluctance to come into mediation itself.

Where the second person does not have the benefit of legal advice, they are unfortunately, too often, unable to recognise the value of mediation. If a mediation process is successful then the costs will be significantly lower than the court process to achieve the same result, in terms of what it says on paper that a settlement or an arrangement for children should be.

But a successful mediation will always provide a better outcome. This is because it means that the parties/parents will have spoken with each other and through this communication will have been more able to draw a line under the previous disputes and move on. Participants to mediation can gain a better sense of closure or as parents can have reset their relationship with the other parent, so that they are working together again and communicating effectively again in order to put the needs of their children first.

Barriers to Mediation

Sometimes people choose not to come into mediation because they do not think that the other person actually wants to achieve a solution.

Other times, they would rather spend much more money on sending ineffective solicitors letters and posturing.

Other times, you just sense that they are not in a place where they are willing or able to properly negotiate.

Successful negotiation does of course mean being able to understand at least at some level what the other person really wants to achieve and understanding what they really want to achieve themselves as well. Successful negotiation requires a degree of compromise. That doesn’t mean giving the other person. Everything that they might want or indeed most things. Successful negotiation requires one to persuade the other to agree to an outcome where there are good reasons for both to settle on that outcome.

If you can get both of the couple into a mediation process, then there is a good chance of success, provided that both engage in the mediation process and deliver at each stage what they commit to delivering.

The family mediation model is a process and an overall settlement is achieved through several meetings (normally between two and four). In order to achieve a wider agreement lots of small steps need to be taken and there were lots of small agreements on the way.

Making the leap of faith into Mediation

When a couple is in dispute. It can be very difficult to accept that the other wants to find a way out of the dispute as well. This is where a leap of faith is required. If both wants to find a solution, and both start the process. Then there are good prospects that they will indeed find a solution.

As an experienced mediator who is credited as a family mediator by the Law Society and as a civil and commercial mediator by the ADR group, I can honestly say that I have seen couples achieve outcomes which will probably inconceivable to both when they first walked through the door into my office.

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