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Using mediation to help you separate

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

You don’t have to talk to a mediator when you separate, but it’s a cost-effective way of sorting any differences you have with your ex-partner about money, property or children.

You can go straight to a solicitor but they might suggest you try mediation first.

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

You can contact the Domestic and Sexual Abuse helpline 24 hours a day on 0808 802 1414.

Don’t try to sort out your separation on your own. If you’re unsure about what to do next, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

It’s best to try and reach an agreement through mediation if you can - you could save thousands of pounds in legal fees.

You can’t force your ex-partner to go to mediation - if they don't want to go, you should go to a solicitor.

Find your nearest family mediator on the Family Mediation Northern Ireland website.

How much mediation costs

You don’t have to pay for mediation if you’re trying to come to an agreement about child arrangements. You’ll get the following for free:

  • 2 pre-mediation assessment appointments (1 for you and 1 for your ex-partner)

  • 4 joint sessions with your ex-partner

  • a written agreement showing what you and your ex-partner decided on during mediation

Find out how mediation works on the Family Mediation Northern Ireland website.

You’ll normally have to pay for mediation if you’re trying to agree about money or property, however you might be able to get legal aid if you’re on a low income.

Speak to an adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice if you’re not sure if you can get legal aid.

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. This shows how much money you’ve got going out and coming in.

Start gathering bills and bank statements together. You’ll need to be prepared to say how much money you’ve got in bank accounts and what you spend on things like transport, utilities and groceries.

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

You, your ex-partner and a trained mediator normally sit together to discuss your differences. You can sit in different rooms if you prefer and ask the mediator to go back and forwards between you. This is known as ‘shuttle mediation’.

Shuttle 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 ‘mediated agreement’ - this is a document that shows what you’ve agreed. You’ll both get a copy.

You can take your agreement to your solicitor and ask them to make it legally binding - this finalises your arrangements in law.

You’ll have to pay fees to your solicitor for this.

Speak to an adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice to see if you can get legal aid to cover your costs.

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 - you can create a parenting plan online on the Put Kids First website.

If you disagree about money or property, a solicitor will probably suggest you sort things out in court. It might be best to try a ‘collaborative law’ session first - ask your solicitor if they think this is a good idea.

Going to collaborative law

With collaborative law, you and your ex-partner have your own solicitors. 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. This can be expensive but it might still be cheaper than going to court. How much you’ll pay at the end depends on where you live and how much you and your ex-partner disagree.

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 and you decide to go to court, you’ll need to find a different solicitor - you can’t use the same one.

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 A Friendly Divorce website.

If you’re worried about the cost of a solicitor

Solicitors can be very expensive - sometimes over £150 an hour. Prepare what you want to discuss before you speak to them to keep your sessions as short as possible.

Some solicitors offer 30 minutes of free legal advice - 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 could ask your solicitor if they’ll do the work for a fixed fee so you know from the beginning how much your legal fees will be. They don’t have to agree to this.

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