Mediation in relation to family law is a process by which families that have recently broken down can discuss the legal arrangements for their separation, in the presence of a neutral third-party.
This is entered into with the aim of coming to an agreement outside of a court and relies on the willingness and cooperation of both parties to reach consensus on things such as the care and support of children, or how their assets are to be split in the divorce.
Mediators themselves are professionals, trained to ask questions that keep communications open and constructive even when emotions are running high and they must remain impartial throughout. A mediator cannot offer legal advice, nor influence the agreement reached, but will hopefully guide the discussion towards mutual decisions. The mediator may be a lawyer, but not necessarily.
The process for family mediation is broadly the same with regards to the steps to be followed however the time it takes will vary, depending on how many points you wish to address and how quickly you want to reach a resolution.
The initial session may take longer than subsequent meetings, simply because there’s a lot to establish and the mediator will want to get a clear picture of what’s causing the dispute and prioritize discussions for the next meeting.
The process could broadly incorporate the following…
It’s recommended that each party has access to their own lawyer, who they may refer to at any time throughout the process if they’re at all unsure as to what their rights and responsibilities are. Anything discussed during family mediation is confidential and is not legally binding until it becomes a consent order or signed agreement.
There are many mediation services available to you. Government subsidized programs such as those offered in the Ontario family courts are subject to fees based on your income, however the advantage of using a private mediator is that you have more control on how quickly progress is made and importantly, many people find the atmosphere of private mediation much more informal and less intimidating than that of a court environment.
The cost of mediation can be considerably cheaper than paying two lawyers for the entire process as it should normally take less time to reach an agreement this way and the cost of the mediator is usually covered equally by each person.
More and more often, family mediation is being used as an alternative to lengthy and expensive court orders for those families that feel as though they can work through their differences with a little help.
Mediation is most successful when each person approaches it with an open mind and a willingness to at least hear the other’s point of view but there are specific situations where it won’t be appropriate.