How Does Family Mediation Work in Practice?

Many people ask us how does family mediation physically work in practice? Some people start out under the false assumption that the process is somewhat like counselling.

When it comes to family mediation services, Ireland has both public and private client options available.

Mediation is a dispute resolution process. It helps people to resolve their issues without having to go into a contested court case.

Mediation can be used to resolve issues regarding child custody, child access, guardianship, divorce, legal separation, sibling disputes, child maintenance, spousal maintenance, and disputes regarding inheritances amongst other matters.

Mediations can either take place with everyone in the same room, or the two sides to the dispute in two separate rooms. The mediators will either work with both parties present or work between the two rooms.

How long does mediation take? That depends on what needs to be resolved. In practice, most family disputes take on average five to seven sessions to conclude. The sessions can last upwards of an hour and a half. Generally, no longer than that.

The mediators examine the dispute between the two sides and strip it down to it’s bare bones. They then examine how the dispute escalated. In doing so they have regard for all the different components of a dispute. The power balance between the parties, communication issues, gender issues, financial components, interests and positions and persuasiveness. Having regard to all the various components to a dispute the mediators lead the parties into a path of communication that leads them towards the resolution of the dispute.

We use the co-mediation method which uses a male and female mediator in each scenario. We find that two mediators provide better gender balance.

In the majority of cases, when we commence mediations, there is a lot of repair work to be conducted on the communications front. In disputes, people have a tendency to issue the other side with ultimatums. We teach people to switch off “the language of threats” and to revert into a problem-solving stance. The tools we teach people in mediation serve them well in other types of disputes they encounter in life.

In entering the process the mediators ask parties to examine their needs and wants. They ask the parties to reflect on what outcome they would like to see to the process. More importantly, they ask people to consider alternatives that might resolve the dispute.

The process starts with both sides getting a chance to read a short opening statement to the other side. Generally, its only a few lines in length. It can be as long as the parties like. It is not an opportunity to take pot-shots at the other side. We find in family mediations that parties use this as an opportunity to tell the other side why they are really here and what they hope to achieve. Parties generally reflect at this time on their desire for resolution for themselves and any children that might be involved.

The earlier part of divorce or separation mediations generally deals with the financial aspects of the dispute. Both sides make a financial declaration to each other in the financial summary document. The mediators assist the parties in organising their paperwork. Generally, this involves recent wage slips, P60’s, annual accounts, bank statements, credit card statements and any other documents used to vouch your financial circumstances. On average this can take two sessions.

The information and research gained from this part of the process will assist parties at the later stages of the mediation when we discuss future financial arrangements. Parties generally find this part of the process useful as it allows people to do some homework on their daily spend on bills such as groceries, utilities and clothing. Often people are shocked by the results as to how much they are spending. This is commonplace for the vast majority of families in Ireland today.

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Organising maintenance arrangements for spouses and children

Maintenance is generally divided into two different categories. Child maintenance and spousal maintenance. Child maintenance is of primary concern to separating couples. Generally, where the children are residing primarily with one of the parties, financial provision will be made for the extra expense incurred by that spouse in accommodating the children. The court cannot order maintenance payments to a partner who is not married. They can make an order for maintenance to be paid for the children, however, even where the parties are unmarried.

In present recessionary times, both of these limits are seldom if ever reached. Under the law, parents have a responsibility to provide for their children financially up and until 18 years of age or 23 years of age where they are in full-time education.The financial needs and monetary resources of both parents are taken into account in District Court proceedings where maintenance is at issue. By contrast family mediation allows the respective parties an opportunity to negotiate their own maintenance terms to tailor suit both their own needs and the needs of the children.

Maintenance arrangements may need to be reviewed as time goes on. The financial circumstances of the parents can change from time to time. Furthermore, the expenses associated with schooling and health care of the children can change as time goes on. Family Mediation Ireland provides parties with an open and fluid mechanism through which the financial needs of the parties and their children can be agreed.