Would you let a stranger decide what’s best for your Family – Consider Mediation?
by Linda O’Mahony
When faced with determining the resolution of a relationship breakdown dispute, it is surprising that so many people choose to leave it to the courts to decide the outcome. Perhaps a more useful, involved and certainly less contentious approach is family mediation.
Family mediation is a means of reaching agreement on the important decisions arising on family relationship breakdown and most importantly on deciding by agreement, the day to day arrangements for the parenting of children. It is a confidential service that seeks to facilitate all those involved, by working with the conflicting parties to reach a satisfactory outcome for all, whilst giving them greater control of the outcome. Despite a common misperception, family mediation is a dispute resolution mechanism and is not simply a form of counselling. Both privately and publicly funded mediation services can be availed of, the Family Mediation Service is the state funded operation.
Mediation offers a less formal approach to negotiation, no courtroom setting, no Judges, no cross examination and no one side winning. Rather it involves both parties working together with a qualified mediator in order to reach a middle ground on the important issues arising on break up. It can be regarded as an opportunity to take back control of what may seem to be a spiralling situation. Even though it is not counselling, it does give each party a voice and an opportunity to be heard which may not always be possible in a courtroom environment.
Effective communication is essential to achieve the best outcome in mediation. Mediation provides a level playing field, by creating an environment where neither party can dominate the meetings; thereby striving to ensure that both parties can participate equally. The process encourages parties to reach a mutually acceptable arrangement regarding parenting and children, financial support, family home and property, pensions and other issues related to the separation or divorce. In situations involving children, mediation keeps the parties’ focus on what are the best possible arrangements to make regarding the child or children involved. Mediation is normally faster than the legal route, avoiding (where relevant) the Legal Aid Board waiting lists and the typically lengthy time periods to await a court hearing. The mediator does not judge nor act as a judge; the mediator’s role is to create and maintain an atmosphere of co-operation to help the parties to work out any issues that may be preventing them from reaching an agreement. The agreements made through mediation are binding once signed by the parties, but it is common practice to either execute a formal separation agreement incorporating the agreed terms or to have the terms of the agreement made an order of Court.
Family mediation helps people to take positive steps towards a much better outcome, and future. It operates to lessen/avoid any legal court battles or hostility, through the negotiation of an agreed set of arrangements.
Mediation is voluntary, not obligatory and therefore is dependent on both parties agreeing to attend and participate in the mediation process. Both parties must agree to try mediation in order for it to be successful. Parties may have both separate and joint appointments to discuss their issues.
Mediation meetings vary depending on each case, it can take 6 or indeed more meetings to finalise an agreement. The main aim is to formulate a mediated agreement and if needed over time both parties can return to mediation if further arrangements need to be made. The trained mediator is there to assist both parties to work out their own solutions in relation to what best suits them and their family.
Mediation is not suitable for cases where one party refuses to engage; where there is recurrent domestic abuse; where one party has an effective incapacity and where one or both parties lack intellectual capacity.
A cultural shift is required for people to more readily acknowledge that court is not the only way to resolve family disputes and is certainly not always the best way forward. The decisions imposed by an independent third party regarding family matters are not always fitting to the parties’ circumstances and sometimes not even realistic or attainable. Who better to decide the future of a family breakdown than the parties directly affected? Take the step, seek the information and decide which route is most effective resulting in as little stress and upset as possible. Mediation may not work for all cases but it should certainly be considered as an option. Having a legally binding mediated agreement where both parties can take ownership following their opportunity to negotiate the best possible outcome in their circumstances is surely worth thinking about, rather than letting the courts decide.
For further information please contact Family mediation service or LoCall 1890 615 200.