What happens at family mediation?
In family mediation, you and your former partner work out the details of a separation with the help of a mediator. You will both decide upon the future arrangement of dependents and the division of property. The mediator does not instruct either party what to do. Rather, they help the family reach an agreement amicably, doing what they can to ease tensions and improve communication throughout the process. Because of the collaborative nature of mediation, the process can reduce the cost, stress, and tensions commonly involved with separating.
Commonly, mediation takes place with you and your former partner in the room. However, if tensions between you two are too high, there are options for a modified process. The first is known as “shuttle mediation.” In this arrangement, the mediator acts as the intermediary between you and your former partner. There’s also “distance mediation”, in which mediation occurs over the phone or through video chat.
Family law mediators must meet Family Law Act minimum training and practice standards. They must have at least two years experience in a family-related field and take specified training in family law, mediation theory and skills development, and family violence.
The Benefits of Family Mediation
Family mediation gives you control over the outcome. At the end of mediation, if an agreement has been signed, both parties know that they were in control of the process. Ultimately, you and your former partner have ownership over the signed agreement. Whereas if you’d gone to court, the decision would be made by the judge alone, and may be one that neither of you are happy about.
Family mediation also eliminates much of the stress involved in dealing with separation. In most cases, mediation proves to be a faster process than going through the courts. Additionally, because the mediator works to help find resolution and common ground between you and your former partner, the process minimizes conflict and enables you to reach an amicable agreement.
It also ensures that the details of the separation that are most important to both parties get looked after right away. Mediators often encourage both parties to set the agenda and confirm what they want to cover. If you and your former partner have children, this can be crucial. Deciding on the custody arrangement of children from the onset of separation relieves a lot of tension.
Finally, the cost of mediation is notably less than that of going to court. There are three primary reasons for this: Mediation requires less work from lawyers, hiring a mediator is less expensive than hiring a lawyer, and (as we mentioned above) the mediation process resolves quicker. Essentially, if you choose to go to mediation, you’ll be paying less money over a shorter period of time.
The Role of Lawyers in Mediation
Mediators do not provide legal advice. For that reason, it’s advised to retain a lawyer.
In the mediation process, it’s common for both parties to retain lawyers. They will sit in the same room and give legal advice. They’ll talk about the law together, allowing both parties to see where there are differences. Once the parties see where those differences lie, they can usually find agreement among themselves. In some situations, where the separation cannot be resolved by mediation alone, parties will follow a mediation arbitration model where they start out with mediation, and if that fails, they shift into arbitration mode.
Once you and your former spouse have reached an agreement, a legal document will be drafted outlying the terms of the separation. Both parties will have a chance to review the agreement with their lawyers, making sure they fully understand the terms and conditions outlined. After the review process, the parties come together again and sign the document in front of a witness (usually the lawyers). This ensures that the agreement is enforceable.
Although mediation may not be suitable for all couples or people, the process is less costly and timelier than court, and promotes communication and amiability between parties.
At Cohen Buchan and Edwards, one of our partners, Garth Edwards, is a strong advocate of collaborative divorce and is a member of the BC Collaborative Roster Society. If you’d like to learn more about family mediation and see if it’s right for you, we’d be happy to talk.