OPINION: How mediation could help divorcing couples avoid court

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OPINION: How mediation could help divorcing couples avoid court

As Family Mediation Week starts today, Rebekah Gershuny tells Jewish News how best to navigate the challenges of a marital breakdown

Le Get (The Divorce), painting by Moshe Rynecki, c. 1930. (Wikipedia)
Le Get (The Divorce), painting by Moshe Rynecki, c. 1930. (Wikipedia)

Today, navigating the process of getting divorced could not be easier. Thanks to legal reforms the divorce process is now fault-free. These reforms have sought to make the process of getting divorced less fraught and confrontational.

However, even the most amicable marriage break-ups are likely to be stressful and challenging for the couple and their children and making the necessary financial and child arrangements can seem overwhelming.

Enter Family Mediation – a process where a skilled, independent mediator facilitates discussions on children and financial matters. It offers a constructive and non-confrontational avenue for couples to address all crucial issues, bypassing the stress, costs, and delays associated with court proceedings – which is the last place that most couples want to go to solve their issues.

Communication with an ex-partner during a separation is undoubtedly challenging. Family Mediation steps in as a structured and secure platform, fostering agreement between ex partners who have the opportunity to make bespoke arrangements for their family and children.

Even if a couple do go to court to sort out their issues, they are likely to find that they are encouraged by the judge or magistrate to resolve their disputes other than through the court. They could even find themselves facing a court order to pay the other party’s legal costs if they fail, without good reason, to attend an initial mediation meeting known as a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) or to attend a non-court dispute resolution process.

In the majority of cases, a court application related to financial or child arrangements necessitates attendance at a MIAM. This initial meeting allows a mediator to explain mediation intricacies, address concerns, and ensure a safe environment for all involved.

Rebekah Gershuny Family Lawyer and Accredited Family Mediator Evolve Family Mediation

Although mediation may not be suitable in cases of domestic abuse or significant power imbalances, its adaptability means that it does not always have to be ruled out. Via a “shuttle” approach, where individuals sit in separate physical or virtual rooms, or with support from lawyers or professionals, mediation remains an option.

In appropriate cases, parents are encouraged to allow their children to be involved in the mediation process so that their voices can also be heard.  This ensures that children have the chance to have their say – which can provide very useful feedback to parents when making the arrangements that suit them best.

A compelling advantage of mediation lies in its cost-effectiveness compared to court battles. Legal Aid remains available for people on benefits or low incomes, and the government’s Mediation Voucher scheme, offering up to £500 towards mediation costs is not means tested, further underscoring the government’s commitment to making mediation accessible to all parents navigating child-related issues.

Mediation offers the opportunity for couples to sort out their arrangements in a respectful and non-confrontational way. It also fosters a culture of understanding and collaboration, which is particularly important where children are involved. By reducing conflict and confrontation mediation can also result in the Get process proceeding to conclusion without the difficulties that sometimes arise when couples are caught up in acrimonious court proceedings.

Family Mediation Week, organised by the Family Mediation Council takes place between 22nd and 26th January. For more information and free webinars available during Family Mediation Week to the public and professionals working with families and in family justice, click here.

  • Rebekah Gershuny, family lawyer & accredited family mediator
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