If your relationship ends, whether or not you and your partner were married, you will need to come to an agreement about arrangements for your children, finances and property. This isn't always easy to manage.
If you and your ex-partner are struggling to agree, mediation can help you negotiate and make decisions you both feel happy with.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a means of helping people who are having trouble reaching an agreement communicate with each other and work out practical solutions.
A mediator will encourage you and your ex-partner to be open and honest with each other. They won't take sides or tell either of you what you should agree to. Instead, their role is to help you both explore different options and reach your own decisions together.
Mediation is not like counselling, and you will not discuss emotional issues, or the reasons for your break up.
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Mediators can help you come to agreements about arrangements for your children, finances, or both. This can often mean you avoid having to go to court, making things quicker, easier and less expensive for everyone involved in the long term.
When is mediation not the right option?
In some cases, mediation won't be the most appropriate course of action. This may be because there is a fear of violence, because one person refuses to participate, or because one of you wouldn't be able to attend the meetings due to where you live or because you have a disability.
When it's not suitable for you to use a mediator, but you are unable to resolve the situation privately, you can ask a solicitor to start negotiating for you.
Is mediation right for me?
Mediation depends on two people voluntarily deciding that they want to reach an agreement between themselves, even though they may hold quite different viewpoints at the start of the process. This means you and your ex-partner will both need to be prepared to be flexible and willing to compromise, and to be honest with each other about matters such as your finances.
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How much does mediation cost?
You may be entitled to publicly funded mediation, which is free. Otherwise, costs will vary and are likely to be per session. Some mediators charge on a sliding scale depending on your income.
It's important that you find out before you start how much each session will cost. There are no hard-and-fast rules as to how many sessions a couple will need, but the average is between three and five. You and your ex-partner may need to agree in advance how you will pay the costs, but some mediators can charge you separately. Use this calculator to find out if you are entitled to legal aid.
What happens once we finish mediation?
If you and your ex-partner have managed to come to an agreement through mediation it will be put into writing. You will then be advised to take the agreement to your solicitor to check that it's fair and reasonable and is in line with the sort of outcome a court would order.
You can then apply to the court to make the agreement legally binding (known as a consent order), but this will normally only cover the parts of the agreement to do with finances rather than arrangements to do with your children.
How do I find a mediator?
Speak to your solicitor, use the mediation service finder or contact National Family Mediation. It's worth checking to see if the mediator offers free appointments.
Top tips to help you and your ex-partner negotiate
- When it comes to decisions about your children, try to focus on what is in their best interests
- Be open and honest with other
- Be flexible and willing to compromise
- Have a clear idea of what you want and the options available to you
- Be realistic about your finances and property, and prioritise the needs of children
- When an agreement is made, it should be clear, precise and written down to avoid confusion or disagreement later on
- Get legal advice before signing any written agreements
Related Gingerbread factsheets:
- Help reaching agreements when a relationship ends
- Contact between your child and their other parent
- Action to take when a relationship ends
- Rights and responsibilities of parents
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