What is mediation?
Mediation is a process that brings parents together to make decisions about their child with the support of trained, independent mediators. In some disputes between parents there is actually some common ground parents can work from, but discussions can be difficult. It may be that just talking with the other parent is difficult for all sorts of reasons; emotion, blame and hurt from the past can get in the way of being able to look into the future. Our mediation team is here to keep conversations focused, emotions in check and encourage parents to look at what arrangements they can make together to build the best possible future for their child.
Mediation in international children’s cases
An extra layer of complexity can be added to disputes between parents when there are different countries involved. There are so many extra things to consider; the cost of a child travelling to see their parent in a different country, keeping up contact between different time zones, and even the fundamental disagreements about which country should be a child’s home.
Our mediation team have a wealth of experience of mediating in international cases and appreciate how such cases are different. We have mediated in a vast range of scenarios, including;
- International parental child abduction/retention – involving both 1980 Hague Convention countries and Non–Hague Convention countries;
- Prevention of abduction – where a family is separating and there are links with another country;
- Contact across international borders;
- Relocation – where one parent wishes to move abroad with the children.
How mediation can help
Mediation has the possibility of helping your situation in a variety of ways. One of the reasons we run a mediation service is because we believe that agreements made between parents are more likely to be stuck to and are better for the children involved than by orders made by a court. Every case is different because every child’s needs are different, as are the needs of every parent. Mediation allows these needs to be in the centre of decision-making by the people who understand them the most.
As well as helping parents come to an arrangement that is in the best interests of their child, mediation can have other benefits. Mediation can help to build bridges between parents and open up communication. In some cases it can be quicker and cheaper than going through a court process.
Mediation and the court process
Even though you may have been asked to consider mediation by a judge or a member of your legal team, mediation is separate to the court process. What you discuss in mediation, and how successful mediation is, does not impact any future court proceedings. You also do not need to choose between mediation and court proceedings, they can run in parallel or you can try mediation and then make a court application if mediation is not successful.
The only time that mediation really does influence any court proceedings is if an agreement is reached between parents, in which case a Memorandum of Understanding is drawn up by the mediators and is presented to the court.
‘I highly recommend reunite as I really think they helped me greatly. All the team and help was outstanding. I thought it was going to be unpleasant for me but not at all, our mediators were brilliant and very kind.’
AO – a mother who mediated with reunite
Costs and Legal Aid
You may be reading this thinking mediation sounds good, but am I actually going to be able to afford it? There are costs to mediation, but we do not want finances to get in the way of what could be a positive process for your family.
At reunite, we have our own legal aid franchise which means that in some situations the costs of mediation can be covered by the Legal Aid Agency. Legal aid is available in certain cases and will depend on your financial circumstances. After speaking with a member of our team, if they believe you may be entitled to legal aid we will send you a form to fill in and information about what supporting evidence you will need to provide.
By way of example, if you live overseas and are using the 1980 Hague Convention to apply for the return of your child from the UK you will automatically be entitled to legal aid for mediation. If you are the respondent in 1980 Hague abduction proceedings in the UK you may be entitled to legal aid depending on your means and the merits of your case.
If the costs of your mediation cannot be covered by legal aid and you have limited resources we can discuss the possibility of undertaking mediation on a Pro Bono basis.
Even with the best of intentions, it is impossible to enter mediation and leave all of your experiences and emotions at the door. Our mediators are there to help you and the other parent see through all that has happened and focus on the future. They can help to keep the conversation focused, reality-check what is being discussed and make sure each of you are truly understanding what the other is trying to say. Both of you are going to be parents to your child for the rest of their lives, so the mediators work to help you take steps towards being able to co-parent effectively as you move into the future.
In the majority of the situations in which we mediate two mediators will work with the parents in each mediation session. This is not so that each parent has an advocate, the mediators are impartial, but each will be bringing their own knowledge and experience to help parents move forward.
Working with international families inevitably means we will be working with people for whom English is not their first language. It is fundamental to mediation that those involved really understand what is being discussed and are able to communicate their thoughts and feelings to the other party and the mediators. As a result our team are very used to working with interpreters throughout the mediation process.
If you or the other parent need an interpreter for the mediation process please don’t hesitate to let us know. If the costs of your mediation are covered by Legal Aid this will also include any interpretation costs.
Children’s involvement in the mediation
In some circumstances it may be possible for your child to participate in mediation, but this will very much depend on their age and maturity. Within our team we have mediators who have completed specific training in speaking with children about their thoughts and wishes. They will work with your child to decide how their voice will be heard in the mediation process. A child’s involvement will very much be guided by them, and we would never force a child to take part in mediation if they did not wish to.
If your children are younger, or do not wish to be actively involved in mediation, there may be other ways that their thoughts and feelings can be considered in the mediation process. For cases going through the courts of England & Wales it is likely that your child will speak with an officer of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (known as Cafcass), with similar arrangements in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The report generated from these meeting can be used to help inform the decisions that are made through mediation.