From April, couples who decide to separate will be required to use mediation to resolve any disputes before heading to the courts to finalise their divorce.
It is hoped the move, introduced by the Ministry of Justice, will make the process of breaking up more amicable, cheaper and fairer, as it will let individuals decide the best scenario for their own circumstances.
Where younger couples may have issues such as child access to consider, when people decide to end their relationships later in life other factors come into account such as pensions, health care and support for elderly relatives.
Mediator Viv Hulland, 54, from Leeds, uses her 20-year experience to explain how mediation can help you move on with your life following a break up.
Talking better than fighting
Viv said: “I have always been someone who believes that, rather than fighting and having a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’, issues are best resolved through talking and finding the right answer for all concerned.
“Mediation is not about getting couples back together. What I find most important to get across to people who come to mediation is even though they are separating, it is helpful for them to accept they have had a joint past together. This has shaped who they are now and acknowledging this will allow them to get on with their lives. Both parties have to put in the work and I can help them with this. They soon come to realise – if they didn’t already – this is important.
“This is particular relevant for older people. Separating from someone you have spent the majority of your life with can be a tough and brave step. A divorce needs you to come to peace with your past life together and to work out how to start life again without that person. Mediation can help this happen in a measured way for both parties. In older couples one person may have given up their career to raise children and so contributed less to the mortgage and pensions, but still had a vital role in the relationship.
“When people get older, health considerations must be taken into account too –for example, a separation may have come after illness, such as cancer, so provisions can be made in an amicable way for support if the illness returns. It can deal with the worries and fears and thereby support everyone involved as necessary.
Treating everyone the same
“What I do is make sure I treat everyone the same and, most importantly, I listen and trust that the right answer for all will be found.”
Mediation can take up to a quarter of the time to process as a divorce through the courts, meaning it can be cheaper and quicker, with decisions in the hands of the separating couple rather than the courts. The proposed new law, will mean that anyone applying for a court order about children, or financial matters, must first attend a meeting about mediation where they can see if it is the right process for them. There are exemptions to this requirement, such as cases with evidence of domestic violence.
Viv added: “Mediation gives people the power to be in charge of their own destiny, and at the same time, they will feel they are being heard by each other. It can show them that they can separate in an amicable, stress-free and mutually respectful way. Mediation can even work for the children of older, divorcing couples. This can be particularly helpful if siblings get into a dispute over inheritance or living arrangements for their elderly parents.
“In mediation each party must follow ground rules. One of which is talking with respect for each other, helping to keep the conversation open and productive. This can be hard to remember when talking about sensitive and upsetting things, but I am there to help them with this and to remind them why they came to mediation in the first place and the need to keep talking with respect.
“There are a lot of misconceptions around mediation, one of them being that I am the judge. This is wrong of course – I reassure people that only they are in control of their own lives and must come to their own decisions and that I am there to help them.
“Reaching your own choices between you and your ex-partner is really powerful. When we sit down for the first session, I invite them to keep any advice from solicitors out of their mind initially so they can find their own answers. More often than not, these are largely the same as their legal advice anyway – the difference being that they have found the solution between them.
“For all these reasons I’d urge anyone going through a divorce or separation, no matter what their age, to consider mediation and remind them that legal aid is still available for this purpose.”
Whereas legal aid has been withdrawn from divorce proceedings in the courts, it will still be available for couples who can not afford to go to mediation. Mediators can advise people whether they are eligible for legal aid.
by Patricia Vine