I recently mediated for a husband and wife who had been sorting out their divorce through lawyers. When I initially met them each separately, it came as no surprise to learn that they had spent £80.000 between them. The bit they hadn’t sorted out was the future parenting arrangements for their young children.
Expense of legal process
It’s peculiar, isn’t it, but there are still very many people who are willing to spend £80,000+ on attempting to unravel a knotty problem by going through adversarial lawyers without first seeing whether there might be a better way.
Unsurprisingly, having been subjected to each other’s lawyers’ hostile correspondence, and having been to court twice, by the time this couple met with me their relationship couldn’t have been worse. Yet now they needed to start co-parenting co-operatively. It didn’t look good.
Lawyers didn't refer to mediation
They approached me not because they or their lawyers recognised the benefits of mediation (to children, if not their parents), but because the lawyers had been unable to sort out the future parenting arrangements through their traditional tool of correspondence. Was I surprised? Not at all. No conflict has ever been resolved through letter writing, despite lawyers’ reliance on it.
Lawyers referred because they neede to
No, they approached me because anyone who wants to make a family court application (with few exceptions) must get a certificate from a mediator beforehand. The certificate shows the court that the applicant has at least heard about the alternatives to court. So this husband and wife were planning to go to court - or at least their lawyers were.
Didn't want to go to court
Each having met with me alone and in confidence, it was clear neither wanted to go to court and neither wanted to spend more money on lawyers. While their lawyers had told them that mediation wouldn’t be suitable as they were too “high conflict” (and who caused that I wonder?) both decided they’d like to give it a go.
So they sat down in a room with me. After three two hour sessions over the course of five weeks they had made only a little progress. I was beginning to wonder if mediation was working. Both were in heightened states of anxiety and each showed anger towards the other.
But at the beginning of their fourth session - with both of them threatening to make a court application - I invited them to share with each other what it was that was making each so angry. They spent the whole session getting things off their chests.
Perhaps more importantly, they were listening to each other for the first time in years. Both were able to acknowledge how the other felt and their own contribution to the conflict.
And with that there were tears and they got up and hugged each other. Despite what each had said about it being the last session, they came back for a fifth and final session. They not only sorted the parenting arrangements out, but also resolved their long-standing conflict.
Courts may make orders, but they cannot resolve deep rooted conflict. Mediation can. That’s why mediation works and that’s why, on average, mediated outcomes are 75% quicker than non mediated outcomes and typically cost around 95% less.
I am Stephen Anderson. I was a practising solicitor. I am a mediator.