Separating from a spouse or partner can be an extremely difficult time for all members of a family. It’s common to disagree on important aspects of a separation such as care of children and division of property and other assets. This is where mediation can be beneficial to help you reach an amicable agreement. But what does it involve and where do you start? Emily from Focus Mediation explains.
Mediation is a structured process during which a neutral third person (a mediator) assists parties to reach agreements about the issues they disagree upon.
Family mediation provides an opportunity for separated couples to have difficult discussions in a structured, non-judgmental environment. It is common when there is a relationship breakdown for communication to be quite dysfunctional. Having productive discussions with the help of a mediator ensures that each of you have the opportunity to discuss the things that are important to you.
Family mediation is now called ‘family dispute resolution’ under Australian law. A family mediator is called a ‘family dispute resolution practitioner’, or FDRP.
Before anyone can file an application at court seeking parenting orders, it is compulsory that there has been an attempt at mediation (however there are some exceptions to this, for example where there has been family violence or there are urgent issues).
What to expect
With the help of the mediator, each person will first identify the issues that are important to them, then these issues are discussed in a respectful and meaningful manner. Options to resolve the dispute are brainstormed, assessed and negotiated.
All discussions relating to children are to have the children’s needs as the focus. A mediator will help you stay focused on meeting the needs of your children, as opposed to being distracted by the ongoing conflict with your ex-partner.
Mediation is not counselling. It is a process designed to help each of you (and your family) move forward by reaching agreements about things you find it difficult to agree upon. It is future-focussed, and aimed at ensuring there are productive outcomes.
If you have concerns about participating in mediation due to family violence or high conflict, you should discuss this with your mediator. A confidential intake assessment is conducted with each person prior to a joint session mediation.
The structure of the mediation process should also be customised to meet the needs of the individual family. This can include organising a ‘shuttle mediation’ – where each person is in a separate room during the mediation.
What is discussed during family mediation?
Every family is unique, so the issues discussed in mediation will always be different. Some topics that are commonly discussed include:
- Future parenting arrangements
- Decision-making relating to children – e.g. choosing which school they will attend.
- Financial/property settlement
- How finances are going to be managed in the short-term
- Ongoing finances related to children (child support)
- Future communication methods
There are many advantages to using family mediation:
- Each of you can move forward with certainty about what the future looks like after separation.
- There will be reduced conflict, as specific “hot topics” will have been dealt with.
- It avoids the financial and personal costs that come with lengthy legal negotiation and/or a court process.
- Children are having their parents make decisions about their future, as opposed to anyone else (e.g. a judge).
Mediation occurs in many different circumstances
There is no ‘typical’ family mediation matter. Mediation can help families at any stage in their separation journey and about any issue (or number of issues) that need to be resolved.
Mediation can assist:
- When a couple has recently separated and they are wanting to have a plan in place to minimise the impact of the separation on their children and manage their finances smartly.
- When there is a specific issue that a separated couple are ‘stuck’ on
- When there is high conflict and any meaningful discussion is impossible
- When separated parents want to strengthen their co-parenting strategies and communication to best meet the needs of their children (this is often accompanied by a process of child-inclusive mediation).
The process will differ slightly across each mediation service, both in terms of structure, style and professional backgrounds and experience of the mediator(s). It is important that you take the time to consider the needs of your family and the specific current circumstances when deciding upon which mediator/service to engage.
My best advice when choosing a service/mediator – ensure the mediation process will be customised to meet the individual needs of your family.
At Focus Mediation, we have been providing family mediation services across all areas of family law for almost 10 years. We are committed to supporting parents through the difficult time of separation by providing a process to assist them in resolving their disputes and moving forward positively. At Focus Mediation, we ensure that discussion remain child-focused and that the needs of children are paramount.
Our team comprises mediators from a variety of professional backgrounds, so you can be confident that your mediator will be the best suited to the needs of your family. We are excited to have recently opened our Head Office in Castle Hill, and continue to meet clients in Gordon, Parramatta and on the Central Coast.