Family mediation is a way of assisting separating or divorcing couples to resolve disputes and reach agreed decisions with a mediator in a series of mediation sessions on issues arising from the breakdown of a relationship. These could relate to children, financial matters or both.

To work, mediation must involve both parties equally, and will have the objective of clarifying the issues between them, highlighting what is relevant and helping the parties to decide issues themselves.

Mediation can be either out of court or part of the court process.

Out of court family mediation

Out of court family mediation is provided by a number of organizations. It can be helpful before divorce proceedings are issued to encourage co-operation between the parties and to prevent disputes intensifying and agreement becoming harder to reach in the future. Family mediation can also be used during a separation or divorce if issues arise or there are outstanding issues to be resolved.

Court based dispute resolution

Court based dispute resolution schemes are available in most Family Courts and are provided by the children and family court advisory service (CAFCASS). The service is run by experienced social workers often working for the court service.

Couples who are divorcing and have not been able to agree issues themselves will be seen first by a court mediator sometimes with a district judge present. If there is a dispute over contact with children, or with whom the children will live, they will be referred to a children and family mediator for a meeting before a full court hearing is arranged.

Usually, both parties will attend the meeting with the mediator, although they can ask to be seen separately as well. The mediator may also see the children separately. The children and family mediator will then report the outcome of discussions to the district judge.

If agreement was reached at the meeting, the district judge can make an order confirming the agreement. If no agreement was reached, the district judge will order that a court welfare report is produced and arrange a further directions hearing.

Court based dispute resolution schemes are free.