Publish date

12 October 2023

How can mediation help in agreeing child arrangements?

How can mediation help in agreeing child arrangements?

There are many examples of divorcing celebrity couples becoming entangled in lengthy and expensive court proceedings. One can only imagine the pain and embarrassment that their children must feel, having their parents’ allegations and counter allegations splashed over social media, for the world to read.

It is refreshing therefore, to learn that the singer Joe Jonas and his ex-wife and actress Sophie Turner, have agreed childcare arrangements for their two young daughters, after what their representatives described as, “a productive and successful mediation”. This is especially so, as it looked for a while as though this could have turned into a long and bitter dispute.

What is mediation and what are its advantages?

Mediation is an alternative to involving the courts. The mediator will have a series of sessions with the couple, which can be remote or in person, to discuss the future arrangements for their children and/or financial issues. It is important to note that mediators are completely impartial. They should not seek to lay blame, but rather, to facilitate the resolution of important issues, such as childcare arrangements.

It is almost always much quicker and significantly cheaper, to resolve issues through mediation, than through the court system. This is because a mediator can normally meet with the couple within a few days of their initial enquiry, whereas the court process can take three or four months to get just an initial hearing date. In addition, and because the costs of the mediator are usually shared between the participants, rather than each of them having to pay for their own solicitor and most likely, a barrister too, mediation is notably less expensive.

The number of mediation sessions required to reach an agreement varies from couple to couple, but as a general guide, agreement is usually reached after two to five sessions, each lasting between one and a half hours and two hours.

How does mediation work?

A couple will usually attend mediation without solicitors (in order to save costs, for example), but if they would like the support of their solicitor at mediation, this can be facilitated. However, in any event, the couple will always be encouraged by the mediator to take legal advice before the initial mediation session and thereafter, as and when needed.

Any proposed financial agreement reached in mediation does not actually become binding, unless or until both parties have had the opportunity to take legal advice and confirmed that they wish to enter into a formal agreement, on the basis of what was proposed at mediation. Similarly, any arrangement in respect of the children, will only become enforceable when it is formalised in a court order.

Can children be involved in mediation?

Some mediators are qualified to consult directly with children and the mediator can, as part of the process (and with both parents’ agreement), have a meeting with the children to discuss their view on the proposed arrangements. However, it is important to note that the children will not be asked to make decisions about future childcare arrangements. Instead they are consulted, so that their wishes and feelings can be ascertained but only if they want these shared with their parents.

If one parent or partner does not feel comfortable discussing issues and the various options available to them in the other’s presence, at least initially, it is possible to have “shuttle mediation”, which means the couple remain apart by using separate rooms, with the mediator going from one room (remote or otherwise) to the other.

Mediation is still a much under utilised process, but it can really help to reduce the emotional and financial toll of divorce and separation. Indeed, the feedback my fellow mediator in the team at Thomson Snell & Passmore Kirstie Law and I have had, has been very positive. It would be good to see more couples following in the footsteps of Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner in using the mediation process.

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