No one goes into a marriage expecting it to fail. In the first heady days of romance it can seem that the good times will go on forever, yet the sad truth is that two out of five first marriages now end in divorce.
The end of a marriage presents couples with a host of issues they may never have even thought about until that point. How will their assets be divided? Will both husband and wife be able to cope financially? What will happen to the children? Where will they live and how much contact will each parent have?
These and a host of other questions suddenly loom large and can become all consuming, leading to endless stress and heartache.
Some couples manage to separate amicably but others may descend into bitter in-fighting and recriminations with everything from money, the children and the kitchen sink being dragged into the battle. In the ensuing acrimony, one partner may feel bullied, or exploited or simply unable to cope with the conflict and all the talk of court proceedings and legal processes.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
The Government, with the backing of many family lawyers, has been promoting a more civilised approach by encouraging all divorcing couples to consider mediation rather than court proceedings to settle any differences.
Mediation is an informal process in which a trained mediator helps the couple to resolve difficult issues in a friendly but practical manner. It is usually quicker and cheaper than going through the courts.
The mediator, such as a solicitor, can arrange meetings on neutral premises. The mediator’s role is to create a calm atmosphere and act as a facilitator to help the couple share information and reach an agreement. The mediator will not favour one side or the other but may make practical suggestions to help you move towards agreement.
The approach is non-confrontational. Both parties can still have solicitors present if they wish. This is often helpful if one partner feels insecure in the presence of the other, or perhaps fears that they lack negotiating skills or an understanding of the matters to be discussed.
In extreme cases if you feel uncomfortable, each partner can sit in different rooms and have the mediator move from one to the other to conduct negotiations.
Mediation can be particularly helpful when a couple want to put the interests of their children first yet find it difficult to reach agreement. If they can find an amicable solution that is fair to both sides then there is a chance that they may remain on good terms after the divorce.
This can be enormously helpful as they may need to retain a good working relationship for many years to come for the sake of their children.
The same principle applies to other arrangements that have to be made when couples separate. They may have to sell their home so the proceeds can be divided between them. They may also have to reach agreements about their investments, their property and even their pensions.
It is better if these issues can be resolved in a civilised way that is fair to both sides rather than have a solution imposed upon them by a court.
Mediation sessions may take place over several months so neither side has to be rushed into decisions.
Once the couple reach agreement, the mediator will record it in a summary known as a memorandum of understanding. Both husband and wife should then give their copy of the memorandum to their respective solicitors, so they can form the basis of a consent order.
Divorce is never likely to be easy, and mediation may not be suitable for everyone, but for thousands of couples it has already provided a way to reduce the stress and heartache to a minimum. Many divorcing couples say they found it empowering because it enabled them to reach decisions together rather than having settlements imposed on them by the courts.
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The contents of this article is general information only. The information in this article is not legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should obtain independent expert advice from qualified solicitors such as those within our firm.