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Using a Mediator to Help You Separate

Mediation uses a third person to find agreements on any differences that exist between ex-partners when getting divorced or dissolving a partnership.

This guide explains the benefits of using mediation to help you separate and resolve the practical issues - usually child custody, sharing finances, and property division.

Reaching an Agreement through Mediation

So, your relationship has broken down? Even so, there is no legal requirement to use mediation services in the United Kingdom.

In some cases, it will be necessary for a court to find solutions to the sensitive issues that couples have when they separate.

But, it is usually much cheaper to try and resolve key issues through a trained ‘neutral’ mediator before having to pay for a solicitor.

As a rule, going to court means you would need to prove you already attended an introductory meeting – called a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM).

Even so, you cannot force your spouse or partner to use mediation services before the court visit. Instead, you should explain the situation to the mediator and let them handle it.

Important: The advice covered in this guide focuses on how to use mediation in a separation in England. Some of the legalities may differ in Scotland, Wales, and in Northern Ireland.

How Much Does Mediation Cost?

Using mediation services to help you separate from an ex-partner is not free of charges. Even so, you should find it much quicker and less expensive than going to court.

Qualifying for the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme means you would get a free coupon (valued up to £500) to cover some of the mediation costs.

Also, check if you can get legal aid for a civil case (e.g. you’re getting a low income). If so, it would help to cover the cost of:

  • The introductory meeting for both of you (even if only one person can get legal aid).
  • One (1) mediation session for you and your ex-partner.
  • Extra mediation sessions for the person that qualifies for legal aid.
  • The services of a solicitor following mediation (e.g. to make a legally binding agreement with terms that you and your ex-partner would have to comply with according to the law).

Note: If you qualify for any of the MIAM exemptions (e.g. for victims of domestic abuse or violence), you would not need to get a MIAM certificate before attending court.

Is Your Partner Making You Feel Threatened?

You can get help from several organisations if your partner is making you feel anxious, worried about your personal safety, or threatening you.

Important: Another section explains how to contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline for free and impartial guidance.

What if You Can’t Get Legal Aid?

The area where you live will have some impact on the cost of using mediation to sort out your differences. In some cases, mediators are going to base their charges on your earnings. Thus, if you are getting a low income you may get a cheaper price.

Even so, getting some advance agreements with the ex-partner (e.g. who will get custody of the children) is a good way of keeping mediation costs low. Agreeing on a set number of sessions with a mediator is another way to get the price down.

Before Going to Mediation Sessions

The best way for a couple to optimise mediation sessions – and increase the success rate – is to focus on things that you are struggling to agree on.

But, the mediator will ask you both to fill out a financial disclosure form when trying to resolve issues involving property and money.

As a rule, financial disclosure forms need to include personal information, including:

  • How much you earn (e.g. including entitlements to social security payments).
  • Your general living costs – food, transport, and utilities.
  • Details about any debts you may have.
  • Information about any property that you own.
  • Whether you have any savings in bank accounts and how much.

Hence, gathering together any recent relevant bank statements and utility bills is a good way to prepare for the first mediation meeting.

In case you were wondering:

Even though it may be a sensitive issue, being honest about your finances is of great importance when trying out mediation. Agreements may lose their validity if one of the partners finds the other wasn’t telling the truth.

Note: In some cases, an ex-partner can take the other to court (if they lied) to try and get a bigger share of the money.

What Happens During the Mediation Process?

The introductory mediation meeting provides an opportunity for the ‘exes’ to have a separate meeting. Following that, the sessions usually involve a discussion with at least three people present (e.g. ex-partners and a trained mediator).

It is not uncommon for the individuals to sit in different rooms and have the mediator go back and forth between each person. But, this kind of mediation is usually more expensive because the process takes longer to conduct.

Mediators are unable to offer legal advice, but their ‘impartial’ role means they will not take sides. Instead, they will treat everything you say with confidentiality, and:

  • Listen to both points of view.
  • Try to create a conducive atmosphere for reaching a mutual agreement.
  • Make suggestions on ways to get satisfactory agreements.

Getting a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’

A ‘memorandum of understanding’ is a written document that shows what has been agreed and produced at the end of mediation with a copy given to each attendee.

Solicitors can turn an ‘MOU’ into ‘consent orders‘ so you can take your ex-partner to court (e.g. if they fail to comply with something you both agreed).

Note: Another section contains more information on how to sort out finances when cohabiting couples separate (e.g. people living in a common law partnership).

What Happens if Mediation Fails?

Hiring a solicitor is usually the next step if you fail to reach an agreement through mediation. You can search the official database of legal professionals to find a solicitor in your area.

What if you can’t agree on what should happen with the children? In this case, a solicitor is likely to recommend you keep trying to find a solution between yourselves.

In fact, court procedures in the United Kingdom tend to use the ‘no order principle’ for children if they believe the parents will be able to resolve the matter themselves. Another section explains more about parenting plans for child arrangements if you need to make a written declaration for childcare.

Sorting Out Money and Property

The courts may be the only option if you have tried mediation and still disagree about how to split up the money and property. Generally, the only way to avoid going to court would be using (either):

  • Collaborative law (having solicitors in the same room trying to help you both reach an agreement).
  • Family arbitration (e.g. an arbitrator would consider the things you can’t agree on and then make their own decision about the outcome).

Note: The main section contains more information about what happens with childcare when parents get divorced or separate in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Related Help Guides

Note: This short video [2:25 seconds] explains how family mediation can be a quicker and less stressful way of moving forward after deciding to separate from your partner.

Using Mediation to Sort Out Differences When You Separate