I went to my first family mediation session on Friday.
The process starts with one to one interviews with both parties. This is so that the mediator can understand why you are at family mediation and what you want to discuss. The mediator also outlines the family mediation process: how long sessions are; how many sessions will be required; the role of the mediator. The main purpose of the first session is to ascertain whether mediation can actually work and whether it is worth pursuing. This was a decision that I had to make at the end of the session and I am guessing was a decision that my ex also had to make at the end of his session.
I started by providing the mediator with a bit of background about our relationship: when we split up; how long we’d been together; the fact that our son is 11 months old. Stuff like that. The mediator asked a few questions to clarify points, but her questioning was all very matter of fact. Her role was to establish facts that would help her to mediate our future discussions. Her role is not to judge or to offer an opinion.
We then spoke about the circumstances of our separation and why I felt the need for family mediation. I told her that I felt that I need a third party in the room to enable me to have these difficult conversations. My ex, I warned her, would be charming and polite but had a bit of a temper and was unpredictable with me. The mediator didn’t pass judgement, obviously, but reassured me that actually you can never predict what someone is like behind closed doors. Her primary concern was to ensure that I had the courage to speak freely and openly and to state what I want in front of him. She cannot speak for me. If I cannot speak my mind and leave the sessions unhappy with the outcome then family mediation has been a waste of time and money. She was quite clear about this.
I had to think about it. I have been nervous and intimidated about outlining what I think is in the best interests of our son because he retorts that I am taking his son away from him. The mediator reassured me that if, at any point during the family mediation sessions, I wanted to stop the session or have a word with her outside then I could, but I have to be able to put my point of view across. I am going to need to rehearse this!
We then talked through what I wanted to discuss at family mediation – arrangements for our son, and maintenance. At this point, I did kind of think that the mediator would offer an opinion, or give her assessment of our current arrangements for our son. She didn’t and I have to say that this was a bit disarming. Everyone has a view! But she was very professional and kept hers to herself.
The role of the mediator is to host the conversation and she will record agreements. She said that she could also offer some suggestions, based on her experience of what arrangements other couples have come up with, for us to consider. She asked whether I would be willing to consider alternative suggestions and arrangements. Of course I would!
Apparently, at some points during the process the mediator may advise one or both of us to seek legal advice. I have already sought legal advice, as you know, and told the mediator this.
The output of the family mediation sessions is a memorandum of understanding. If we like, we can take this memorandum of understanding to a solicitor and make it legally binding.
My initial family mediation meeting was actually very quick – just over half an hour. The sessions themselves will be 90 minutes which feels like a long time.
I am actually really nervous about my first family mediation session. I don’t know what it will be like and I don’t know how my ex will react. I suspect he will cry, which he has a habit of doing if things aren’t going his own way. The family mediation sessions will be really stressful, but I appreciate that they are necessary and the only way I am going to be able to put my views across about what is in the best interests of our son.
You can read about my aspirational parenting plan here.