If a couple – whether married or unmarried – is unable to agree a financial settlement or child arrangement through negotiation, the traditional route leads to a day (or more) in the local Family Court, where a single Judge will make a binding decision.
This is a far from perfect process. In recent years the Court system has suffered repeated cuts to its funding. Court closures and staff reductions have led to serious delays and significant work overload for the Judges.
The Court process also carries with it 'litigation risk', under which the Court's decision will often depend on the inclination of a particular judge, making the outcome more uncertain.
You – like all litigants – will want the the Court to deal with your case as quickly and fairly as possible.
We believe that mediation provides most Clients with a better and substantially cheaper solution.
What is Mediation?
There are two types of mediation applicable to Family Law.
1. Traditional family mediation. This system is controlled by the Family Mediation Council and follows a set procedure.
The system was introduced by successive Governments to encourage parties to settle their disputes. Under this system parties are required to attend an initial mediation information session (called a MIAM). Participation in further, sequential, mediation sessions is optional.
In our view this traditional process rarely leads to settlement: the MIAM session can simply be treated as a minor hurdle, and added cost, on the road to Court.
2. At Woodford Stauffer we are pioneering a different mediation process, bringing together our experience of family and civil mediation.
A half day or a full day is set aside for the mediation. Both parties agree on an independent Mediator (always a qualified and experienced Family Lawyer).
Each party attends the chosen mediation venue with his or her legal representatives where they will each be provided with a private room.
The parties need not meet at all unless they wish to. The Mediator will shuttle between each party, discussing the issues, providing comment and suggestion and narrowing the differences in an effort to reach agreement.
The whole process is without prejudice, and off the record. If settlement is not achieved, nothing said or written during the mediation can ever be referred to again.
If the parties do agree a settlement, the legal representatives can draw up a legally binding agreement which both parties will sign before leaving the building. That agreement will then be ratified by the Court, bringing the whole legal process to an end.
If mediation succeeds it can halve the overall cost of a divorce. If it fails it is likely that it will still have been a cost effective procedure overall since the process will, almost inevitably, reduce the work to be done in preparing for trial.
We will not suggest mediation where we think it is likely to fail. But, where appropriate, we will always advocate mediation since, if it succeeds, the savings on costs and emotional distress are so great.
Such is our belief in mediation that (as well as our own in-house Mediators), we have a dedicated mediation suite at our office so that our Clients are able to attend mediation “on their own patch” in comfortable and reassuring surroundings.