Divorce solicitor and family mediator Kate Brooks explains what role your lawyer can play in family mediation.
Family mediation is something very much the Government is pushing at the moment and one of the issues is that not everyone necessarily knows what it is. I am a family solicitor but I am also a qualified family mediator so I am quite well placed to talk about how the two actually slot in and work together.
When you start divorce proceedings, often you will come to a lawyer first to find out the legal basics and certainly if people approach me as a divorce lawyer, I will always at the first meeting discuss options as to how to deal with divorce and separation and one of those options is obviously to involve a family mediator in any areas where you and your ex might not be in agreement. It tends to be more to deal with the financial matters and aspects to deal with the children, rather than the divorce process itself, but clearly that is the bit that people find most difficult in any case.
So perhaps one of the roles of a lawyer in terms of dealing with mediation is to inform people that it is out there and if necessary, make referrals. I work with lots of mediators so I know that there are some very good ones out there, so I can easily signpost my clients to them and then work alongside them. Not all family mediators are legally trained and they may actually mediate across a whole bunch of things not just family law, so assuming they will understand the overall position is something that could be quite dangerous.
So I think people as a minimum need to understand some basics of mediation and then perhaps even more importantly they need to understand what they have got to cover. As a lawyer, there is nothing more frustrating than getting an agreement that has come out of mediation that has simply not dealt with everything. People are very good at understanding that they need to talk about the house and savings but they may simply not have talked about pensions or income or any difficult subjects like that.
I have several clients at the moment who are working with mediators and I often find that they come back to me after a meeting at mediation and ‘check in’ to see that they are covering everything, or maybe to get legal advice on a specific point or talk about whether they need to bring in experts like Accountants or Actuaries to deal with pensions.
Hopefully people are able to reach an agreement in the mediation process but at the end of that, if they want it to become legally binding, that is something that a mediator can’t help them with. They will need to come back to a family lawyer to get an agreement drafted that can be lodged at the Court so that that can become legally binding and everybody knows where they are.