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Using mediation to help you separate

This advice applies to Wales

Mediation is a cost-effective way of sorting any differences you have with your ex-partner about money, property or children. 

You should try to talk to a mediator when you separate. You can go straight to a solicitor, but the first question they’ll often ask you is whether you’ve tried mediation.

Even if you end up having to go to court to sort out your differences, you normally need to prove that 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 exceptions when you don’t have to go to mediation first - for example, if you’ve suffered domestic abuse.

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 thousands of pounds in legal fees.

If your ex-partner doesn't want to see a mediator, you should go to the MIAM on your own. You’ll then be able to prove you’ve tried mediation if you later want to go court. You can’t force your ex-partner to go to mediation.

See this family mediation leaflet on GOV.UK for more information about how mediation works, and what happens at an MIAM.

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

How much mediation costs

Mediation isn't free, but it's is 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 MIAM - this covers both of you, even if only one of you qualifies for legal aid

  • mediation sessions for the person who qualifies

  • 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.

You’ll normally have to pay about £30 for an MIAM, although sometimes this first meeting is free. Follow-up sessions usually cost you and your partner about £80 each - most people need to go to 3 or 4.

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. 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. 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.

You can see an example of a financial disclosure form on the Mediation First website. 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

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 ‘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 as soon as 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 - you can create a parenting plan online on the Put Kids First 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

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, which can be expensive. 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 Resolution 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.

Going to family arbitration

Family arbitration is your final 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.

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

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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