Mediation for separating couples and family

As a mediator, separating couples and family is one of my areas of speciality. 

Relationship breakdown is traumatic for everyone affected by it. Mediation can help couples decide how to move forward separately in a way that works for them, and for their children. It’s incredibly desirable for people in family disputes to find their own resolution through Mediation which fosters goodwill for the future, rather than conflict based approaches which can permanently destroy already strained relations.

Mediation is particularly appropriate and effective in family disputes and can assist resolve differences which occur during marital breakdown, contact disputes, custody issues, and disagreements over the division of assets and all kinds of issues that can arise in the family arena. Launching a family mediation initiative in Dublin District Court Family Law Office in 2011 former Chief Justice Mr. Justice John Murray said; “In the majority of cases, issues arising from family breakdown are most likely to be best resolved through mutual agreement. Mediation, particularly in advance of the ‘locking of horns’ in legal proceedings, is of primary importance in this regard”.

Here are a few reasons why you should consider Mediation if you are involved in a family dispute:

  1. Mediation is private and confidential so no-one outside the process will know your private family business.
  2. Family Mediation is specifically designed to cater for the needs of children.
  3. Family conflict can be deeply upsetting and extremely stressful – Mediation is designed to reduce conflict and promote well-being.
  4. Imposed outcomes in Family disputes can often lead to further conflict and compliance issues.
  5. Mediation gives the parties the opportunity to fully explain their position so everyone knows where they stand.
  6. Your family has its own individual needs and circumstances, these can be incorporated into a mediated agreement.

Case Study

Joe and Ann (not their real names) came to mediation in order to sort out their finances, property and parenting arrangements for their two children following their separation. Some of the issue they had to address in the process were who would remain in the family home, where the other parent would live, how to deal with an investment property which was in negative equity, and how to manage sharing time with, and responsibility for their two children.

Over a period of about two months, through weekly sessions lasting roughly 1.5 hours, the couple worked out a financial settlement and a parenting plan. During this time they saw the mediator both together and separately, and consulting with their respective solicitors between sessions, as they began to formulate options.

At the end of the process, they signed their Agreement, known as a Memorandum of Understanding, which they then brought to their solicitors for legal formalisation. They also agreed to return to mediation to review the parenting plan from time to time as the children got older and their needs and circumstances changed.

“It was such a relief to be able to talk to my ex-partner about my concerns and needs in such a safe and comfortable environment. The mediator helped us to focus on what we and our children need going forward, instead of going around in circles arguing about why we broke up.”


Will I have to be in the same room as my ex?

In family mediation parties are seen both separately and together. The mediator will usually meet parties separately first, to ensure both are happy to start mediation and feel safe working with the other party. After that mediators try to work with parties together, particularly where there will be a co-parenting relationship going forward, unless the conflict level is too high for this to work effectively.

Do I need to see a solicitor too?

It is important that both parties have had legal advice and/or have access to such advice during the process. The parties need to know what their rights and entitlements are, and a mediator cannot give legal advice, even if they have been legally trained. A solicitor will also most likely be required in order to make the mediation agreement legally binding, by means of a Separation Agreement or a Consent Order for Divorce or Judicial Separation.

Who can be involved in the process?

All couples, of any gender, whether married or not, can avail of family mediation. Both parties will play and equal role in the process. Where parents feel it is helpful, children can also participate in the mediation process, usually by speaking with the mediator directly, or with a child specialist present. The mediator will then feed back the input of the child or children to the parents. This does not mean that the children have the power to decide on their future, or will be asked to choose between their parents. This process gives children a voice, and the opportunity to tell their parents about their hopes, wishes, fears and concerns. If you wish your children to participate in mediation, you should ensure your mediator is specially trained in consulting with children.

How long will it take?

The length of the mediation process will depend on how many issues need to be discussed, how complex these are, and on the level of conflict between the parties. Mediation sessions will take place over a period of weeks or months, and address whatever agenda or list of issues the parties draw up together. If the mediator feels that little or no progress is being made over time, they will tell you and recommend alternatives.

What if I get upset?

Relationship breakdown is hard, no matter how or when it happens. All members of the family can be impacted and it is normal to feel a range of emotions including grief, anger, frustration and sometimes relief. Mediators are trained to work with such emotions and understand the complexity of relationship breakdown. They will work at a pace that suits you and will always ensure that you are comfortable. Don’t be afraid to tell your mediator when things are getting on top of you. You can take some time out, have a chat to the mediator on your own, or address a less emotive issue for a while. Your mediator will also be able to refer you, and other members of your family to support services should the need arise.

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