Mediation is both a common and (almost always) necessary step for resolving parenting issues, as the Family Law Act makes it mandatory for parents to meet with a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner before initiating court proceedings (except, for example, in circumstances of urgency or where there is family violence).
Although some people initially dislike the idea of seeing, let alone attending mediation with their ex partner, there are several benefits to doing so, as mediation allows you the opportunity to reach an agreement with respect to your family law matter with as much detail and specificity as you require, rather than leaving matters in the hands of the court and losing control over the decision making process.
Mediation can also save you time and money when compared with litigation.
In this post, we’ll discuss what you can expect from mediation, so you can properly prepare yourself.
What will the mediator do?
The mediator, or Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, as the case may be, is an impartial and neutral party whose job it is to facilitate an agreement between you and your ex partner.
The job of the mediator is to facilitate discussions between the parties involved and to try and create the grounds for an agreement to be formed and signed. While the mediator is there to help you, the mediator cannot and will not pick a side.
Overall, the mediator will try to keep all of the debate positive and constructive.
Although they will guide the discussion, they will give you plenty of chance to have ‘your say’ and communicate your proposals for resolution.
Your mediator will remain independent throughout the process.
As a result, they will not give you legal advice on anything that’s discussed.
This is the job of your lawyer or representative, who should attend the appointment with you.
What format will the meeting take?
The format of mediation is selected by the parties involved and will largely be dictated by the relationship between you and your ex-partner.
If you remain on good terms with the other party, then you can stay in the same room as each other for mediation.
However, it has become increasingly popular for a ‘shuttle system’ to be used.
In this model, both parties (usually) start in the same room for the introductions and the overview of the case, but following this, each party will relocate to a different room.
The mediator will then move between these rooms, passing on information, relaying points and communicating offers.
If you and your ex-partner refuse to be in the same room as each other under any circumstances (as can happen in situations of domestic violence or particularly volatile break-ups), then it is possible to not be in the same room as each other for any part of the mediation.
However, you must make this known to your lawyer and the mediator in advance of the appointment so appropriate arrangements can be made.
What happens if we reach an agreement?
All mediations are geared towards you and your ex-partner reaching an agreement. If you do reach an agreement, it is always advisable to document the terms of the agreement and have it formalised.
While it is important to document the terms of any agreement reached, you should not sign any documents at mediation without first discussing them (and their consequences) with your legal representative.
Your solicitor can also discuss the best course of action with you for formalising your agreement and will give you advice as to whether a Parenting Plan or Consent Order is appropriate for parenting matters and whether Consent Orders or a Financial Agreement is appropriate for financial matters.
How should I prepare for mediation?
Mediation sessions are incredibly important, as it is the best opportunity to settle your dispute without taking court action – which can be expensive, time consuming and unpredictable.
As a result, you should prepare thoroughly for the appointment, which should include meeting your legal representative to discuss possible options for settlement, what is likely to happen to your matter if you do not reach an agreement, what options you have for finalising any agreement reached and the costs involved whether an agreement is or isn’t reached. This will help you manage your expectations and assist you in making fully informed and/or commercially considered decisions.
Prior to mediation, you should speak to your solicitor about preparing an opening statement for the appointment where you can get across any key points, overall arguments and things you’d like to discuss (i.e. an agenda). This can be delivered by either you or your solicitor at the appointment itself.
Before the meeting, you should also take the time to familiarise yourself with all of the documents relating to your case and consider some possible areas for compromise. At the same time, you should consider what your bottom line is, with costs (emotionally and financially) being considered.
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