Family Mediation Services Defined

by Debbie Hegarty MIAHIP MIACP, Accredited Mediator

What is Family Mediation?

Family Mediation is a process during which separating or divorcing couples divide their assets and settle other issues, such as child access, in a fair and equitable manner.

Family Mediation is voluntary, requires the full co-operation of both parties, and is confidential, flexible, cost effective and time-efficient. The process enables parties in dispute reach an amicable agreement for themselves and their families when attempting to deal with family break-up. It is a form of Alternative/Appropriate Dispute Resolution (ADR) and aims to assist two (or more) family members in reaching settlement of outstanding issues. It is a movement away from the adversarial legal model that exists in Family Law.

The following are some of the issues we have mediated for in the past with families:

  • Future Living Arrangements
  • Division of Assets
  • Maintenance
  • Custody, Access and Guardianship
  • Co-Parenting Plan
  • Communication Issues
  • Pensions and Future Family Income

The Benefits of Family Mediation

Feedback from former clients of The Hazelton Clinic would indicate that it has been their experience that the most cost effective means for separating or divorcing couples to decide upon the terms of custody, access, guardianship and maintenance is to first agree upon those terms in Family Mediation. Subsequently couples have the option of having that agreement inserted into a Deed of Separation (outside of court) or having it ruled on consent (in Court). Your legal advisors will advise which option would be appropriate for you.

Family Mediation Services have been available in Cork for 23 years. It has a very high success rate in Ireland and internationally with statistics indicating that eight out of ten cases that enter the process reach a successful outcome.

Family Mediation is best suited to families where separating and divorcing parents are committed to planning a structured and organized positive future for themselves and their children. It can also support couples where there are no children in agreeing on a fair division of assets.

The process is tailor made to suit the needs of all parties involved. Each mediation is unique because the requirements for every family are unique when going through separation or divorce.

Unlike legal proceedings the parties dictate the timeframe required. Usually this is dependant upon the amount of issues that need resolving. Each joint session will take ninety minutes. It is our experience that sessions lasting any longer then that are counter-productive. It is unlikely that there will be more then two joint sessions in a given day. There are ample opportunities during sessions and between sessions for either party to take breaks or time-out. In addition each party has the right to call a halt to the process at anytime.

It is important to note that Family Mediators will not be advising the parties in conflict either legally or otherwise. Their role is to facilitate you in solving your disputes.

The Mediation Process Delineated

Step One: The Agreement to Mediate

Upon entering into the process of Family Mediation the parties will sign a contract with the mediator known as an “Agreement to Mediate”. This contract lays down the ground rules for the forthcoming mediation process. The purpose of this contract is to define the terms of confidentiality throughout the process and also the conditions that might lead to a breach in confidentiality.

Step Two: Information Session

Once the Agreement to Mediate is signed by all parties concerned the next step is to set up an information session. As its name suggests this is an information-gathering session. It also allows the mediator outline the procedure and answer any questions the parties in dispute might have.

Step Three: Single Sessions

Single or joint sessions can also be referred to as individual or joint caucuses respectively. The individual caucus takes place in separate rooms with each party having an opportunity to discuss matters pertaining to their individual interests before entering into the joint caucuses. In the absence of the other party it also allows the mediators to assess possible risk in terms of abuse etc. Depending on the nature of the individual needs there can be more then one individual session before the joint sessions.

Step Four: Joint Sessions

Once both parties are together again it is the role of the mediator to facilitate them in putting together a financial summary as well as an agenda. The agenda will be version one of the final draft agreement. The purpose of the agenda is to define and prioritise issues. During joint caucuses all involved will be working towards reaching an amicable agreement that is mutually consensual and tailored to suit the needs of all parties involved. On occasion more individual caucuses may be required. This is dependant upon the nature of what is disclosed.  Ultimately the process always concludes in a joint caucus.

Step Five: The Agreement

In essence the goal of Family Mediation is to draw up an agreement that is mutually acceptable to both parties in dispute. Once all the issues have been discussed and worked through then an agreement is drawn up which is called the “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU). This agreement can be made into a legal agreement or a judicial order by, respectively, a solicitor or a judge, depending on your preferences.

  • It is worth noting that it is the parties in dispute that determine the content of the MOU not the mediator. Parties are free and indeed encouraged to consult with their individual professional advisors where appropriate.

Finally as an Accredited Family Mediator with Friarylaw I am bound by their Code of Practice and Ethics.

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