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Using mediation to help you separate

This advice applies to England

Mediation is a way of sorting any differences between you and your ex-partner, with the help of a third person who won’t take sides. The third person is called a mediator. They can help you reach an agreement about issues with money, property or children.

You can try mediation before going to a solicitor. If you go to a solicitor first, they’ll probably talk to you about whether using mediation first could help. 

You don’t have to go to mediation, but if you end up having to go to court to sort out your differences, you normally need to prove you’ve been to a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM). This is an introductory meeting to explain what mediation is and how it might help you.

There are some exceptions when you don’t have to go to the MIAM before going to court - for example, if you’ve suffered domestic abuse.

If you need to go to court and your ex-partner doesn't want to see a mediator, you should contact the mediator and explain the situation. You can’t force your ex-partner to go to mediation.

If your partner makes you feel anxious or threatened, you should get help.

You don't need to go to mediation to help you end your relationship.

You can call Refuge or Women's Aid on 0808 2000 247 at any time. 

Men's Advice Line is a charity that helps men suffering domestic abuse. You can call their helpline on 0808 801 0327 between 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

 If you’re unsure about what to do next, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

It’s better to try and reach an agreement through mediation if you can. You could save money in legal fees and it can be easier to solve any differences.

You can find out more about how mediation works in this family mediation leaflet on GOV.UK.

Find your nearest family mediator  on the Family Mediation Council website.

How much mediation costs

Mediation isn't free, but it's quicker and cheaper than going to court. If you’re on a low income you might be able to get legal aid to pay for:

  • the introductory meeting - this covers both of you, even if only one of you qualifies for legal aid

  • one mediation session - that covers both of you
  • more mediation sessions - only the person who qualifies for legal aid will be covered

  • help from a solicitor after mediation, for example to make your agreement legally binding

Legally binding means you have to stick to the terms of the agreement by law.

Check if you’re eligible for legal aid on GOV.UK.

The cost of mediation varies depending on where you live. Phone around to find the best price, but bear in mind the cheapest might not be the best.

Some mediators base their charges on how much you earn - so you might pay less if you’re on a low income.

If you want to keep the costs of mediation down, try to agree as much as you can with your ex-partner before you start. For example, you might have already agreed arrangements about your children, but need help agreeing how to divide your money. 

You could also agree a fixed number of sessions with your mediator - this might help you and your ex-partner focus on getting a quicker resolution.

Before you go to mediation

Think about what you want to get out of mediation before you start. Mediation is more likely to succeed if you can spend the sessions focusing on things you really disagree on.

If you’re trying to reach an agreement about money or property, you’ll need to fill out a financial disclosure form when you go to mediation. You'll have to include all your financial information, for example:

  • your income - for example, from work or benefits
  • what you spend on living costs - such as transport, utilities and food
  • how much money you have in bank accounts
  • debts you owe
  • property you own 

Start gathering bills and bank statements together to take to the first mediation meeting. Some mediators will send you a form like this to fill in before your first appointment.

It’s important that you and your ex-partner are honest when you talk about your finances. If your ex-partner later finds out you tried to hide something from them, any agreement you make might not be valid. Your ex-partner could also take you to court for a larger share of your money.

What happens in mediation

In the introductory meeting, you and your ex-partner will usually meet separately with a trained mediator. After this, you’ll have mediation sessions where you, your ex-partner and the mediator will sit together to discuss your differences.

You and your ex-partner can sit in different rooms if you feel unable to sit together and ask the mediator to go back and forwards between you. This kind of mediation takes longer, so it's usually more expensive.

The mediator can’t give legal advice, but they will:

  • listen to both your points of view - they won’t take sides

  • help to create a calm atmosphere where you can reach an agreement you’re both happy with

  • suggest practical steps to help you agree on things

Everything you say in mediation is confidential.

If you have children, your mediator will normally focus on what’s best for them and their needs. The mediator might even talk to your children if they think it’s appropriate and you agree to it.

At the end of your mediation

Your mediator will write a ‘memorandum of understanding’ - this is a document that shows what you’ve agreed. You’ll both get a copy.

If your agreement is about money or property, it’s a good idea to take your memorandum of understanding to a solicitor and ask them to turn it into a ‘consent order’. This means you can take your ex-partner to court if they don’t stick to something you agreed.

You can apply for a consent order after you’ve started the process of getting divorced or ending your civil partnership. It needs to be approved by a judge in court - this will cost £50. You’ll also have to pay your solicitor’s fees.

Check if you can get legal aid to cover your costs on GOV.UK.

If you can’t reach an agreement through mediation

You should talk to a solicitor if you can’t reach an agreement with your ex-partner through mediation. They’ll advise you what to do next.

Find your nearest solicitor on the Law Society website.

If you disagree about what should happen with your children, a solicitor might suggest that you keep trying to reach an agreement between yourselves.

Courts normally won’t decide who a child lives or spends time with if they think the parents can sort things out themselves. This is known as the ‘no order principle’.

You could try to make a parenting plan. This is a written or online record of how you and your ex-partner intend to care for your children. Find out more about making a parenting plan on the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service website.

If you disagree about money or property and you’ve tried mediation, a solicitor will probably suggest sort things out in court. 

If you'd rather avoid court, you could try:

  • going to a ‘collaborative law’ session - you and your partner will both have solicitors in the room working together to reach an agreement

  • going to family arbitration - an arbitrator is a bit like a judge - they’ll look at the things you and your ex-partner disagree on and make their own decision

Both of these options can be expensive, but they might still be cheaper than going to court. It’s best to get advice from a solicitor before trying either.

Going to collaborative law

You and your ex-partner have your own solicitors who are specially trained in collaborative law. The four of you meet in the same room and work together to reach an agreement.

You’ll each need to pay your solicitors’ fees, which can be expensive. How much you’ll pay at the end depends on how long it takes for you and your ex-partner to reach an agreement.

Before you start your collaborative law sessions, you each have to sign a contract saying you’ll try to reach an agreement. If you still can’t reach an agreement, you’ll need to go to court to sort out the issues. You can’t use the same solicitor, so you’ll need to find a different one - this can be expensive.

When you reach an agreement through collaborative law, your solicitors will normally draft a 'consent order' - this is a legally binding agreement about your finances.

If you’re not yet ready to apply for a divorce or end your civil partnership, they can record your arrangements as a ‘separation agreement’ instead.

A separation agreement isn’t legally binding. However, you’ll normally be able to use it in court if:

  • it’s been drafted properly, for example by a solicitor

  • you and your ex-partner’s financial situations are the same as when you made the agreement

Find a collaborative lawyer on the Resolution website.

If you’re worried about the cost of a solicitor

Solicitors can be very expensive. Prepare what you want to discuss before you speak to them to keep your sessions as short as possible.

Some solicitors offer an initial meeting for free or a fixed cost - use this time to find out as much as you can. You’re unlikely to get detailed advice, but you should get an idea of how complicated your case is and roughly how much it’ll cost you.

You should ask your solicitor to give you a written estimate of how much your legal fees will be.

Going to family arbitration

Family arbitration is another option if you want to stay out of court.

It’s a bit like going to court, but in family arbitration an arbitrator makes a decision based on your circumstances - not a judge. You and your ex-partner choose the arbitrator you want to use. You can also choose where the hearing takes place and which issues you focus on.

An arbitrator’s decision is legally binding. This means you have to stick to the terms of the agreement by law.

Arbitration can be cheaper than going to court, but it can still be expensive. You can’t get legal aid for it. The exact amount you’ll pay depends on where you live and how long it takes you and your ex-partner to reach an agreement.

Family arbitration might be a good option if you and your ex-partner:

  • want a quick decision - waiting for a court hearing can sometimes take more than a year, whereas an arbitrator would normally be able to start much sooner

  • can’t reach an agreement through mediation or by using solicitors - but you’d still like to avoid going to court

  • would prefer someone else to make a decision for you, rather than having to negotiate yourselves

Arbitration isn’t cheap and you can’t get legal aid for it, but it might still be cheaper than going to court. Court could cost several thousand pounds.

A simple arbitration case might cost £1,000, but you could end up paying much more - the exact amount depends where you live and how long it takes to reach an agreement.

It’s a good idea to speak to a solicitor before deciding on arbitration - they can tell you if it's right for you, and might be able to recommend a good local family arbitrator.

You can also find a family arbitrator online on the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators website.

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