Rebecca Vary discusses mediation on the Leigh Chambers show, Cambridge 105

Transcript below:

This is Leigh Chambers on Cambridge 105 radio that’s Stevie Nicks and talk to me and we’re playing that because we’re talking about talking and such we talking about mediation with my guest today Rebecca Vary from Miller Sands solicitors.

Good morning Rebecca

Good morning, you found us eventually, I did thank you, how was navigating the one way system? It was a little bit tricky but I got here in the end.

Yes, you got here you got here in the end so we’re talking about mediation.


So what is mediation?

So if you’re separating or divorcing mediation is a good way of couples meeting face-to-face and chatting with one another with an independently trained expert who is the mediator.

They have a series of roundtable meetings and it’s a way of trying to sort of narrow or resolve any issues that arise on divorce or separation, face-to-face so rather than sort of sitting with lawyers and looking at negotiating through correspondence or telephone calls you actually meet face-to-face and it can often be sort of a more amicable way for couples to try and sort out their differences.

So what does it look like, is it really just the couple and a mediator?

That’s right, yes yeah your lawyers don’t go into those sort of meetings. You can sometimes with the traditional process you can have roundtable meetings with your lawyers, but with mediation you don’t have your lawyers present.
It’s just a mediator and the couple around the table.

There is also something called shuttle mediation which is where people don’t feel so comfortable sitting in the same room as one another they can sit in separate rooms and the mediator can go back and forth and talk about the issues in that way. But it isn’t as effective as if the couple were to sort of sit round the table together and try and talk to one another with the mediator present.

If it’s been a difficult split and there are issues about money and children and custody that might feel a little bit frightening?

Yeah absolutely but the mediators are specifically trained in these sort of situations and mediation really only works where couples are starting out on an amicable footing and they’re trying to sort of do things in the best way they can for their family.

If there’s been issues with regards to domestic abuse or anything like that we wouldn’t necessarily recommend that a couple of tries mediation.

It’s really something you try when you’re amicable in the first place and then it can sort of help progress things from there.

And it’s about looking for common ground is it? So you know you might think you’re starting points might be very different but there might be areas of overlap.

That’s right yeah I mean mediation can be used to discuss a number of issues that arise on separation. So it could be anything to do with the children. It could be to do with the financial settlement but yes the idea is that the couple sits and talks about those issues and by doing so they get to listen to one another’s opinions. They get to have their say, so it feels a bit fairer I suppose, that everybody sort of has their say in that forum and then the mediators are there really to talk and to sort of try and guide them towards how they can narrow or resolve their issues.

The mediators job certainly isn’t to impose any sort of agreement upon them or force them in any way into an agreement, and the mediation process is entirely voluntary as well.

So the mediators neutral in this, they’re just looking for those common areas?

Yeah absolutely the mediator is an independent third party they’re not there as a lawyer and they’re not there to take sides. They really are there just to help the couple, to aid them to have their talks if you like and sort of point them in the right direction with with how they might be able to narrow their issues.

And it’s confidential?

Oh yeah absolutely confidential yes, the mediator would go through that at the start of the mediation process. But yes it’s something that the couple have to feel comfortable going into that setting and knowing that they can talk about things without it being used against them at a later date. So except in very exceptional circumstances everything that is said in mediation is confidential.

And this is to avoid the to-ing and fro-ing with the lawyers and the the kind of confusion and miscommunications that can arise with that.

So if it was a relatively amicable split you would recommend a couple going down this route?

Absolutely yes we always at Miller Sands look at the the most amicable way to deal with a couples split. So what we would do is we would talk through the options with the couples and one of which would be mediation.

We would advise that you have a solicitor throughout the process as well because mediators aren’t legally trained. So they’re not there to give legal advice and you often come to a point within the mediation process where legal advice is needed. Therefore it might be that a couple goes to a mediation session and then they’re told to go away and consult with their respective solicitors for legal advice before coming back for the next mediation session.

So it’s good to have a solicitor on board at the outset and then you can go back to them however frequently is is needed during the mediation process to get that advice.

Then ultimately at the end of the mediation session the mediators aren’t there to draw up any kind of legal document recording the agreement. So you would, at that stage, need to sort of go back to your lawyers for that as well.

And presumably you would need more than one session most of the time?

Yeah most of the time, how it works is that you tend to have your first sort of assessment meeting on your own with a mediator. Then the mediator will get in contact with your husband or wife or partner and arrange for them to come in for an information gathering session. Then a joint mediation session would be arranged when the mediator was happy and knew that everybody was on board with the process.

Because as I say it’s a voluntary thing and the mediator has to be satisfied that both parties are willing to engage in it. But yes I mean it can take a number of sessions, it can be over in a couple, it really does depend on how many issues that the couple have that need to be resolved.

And because these can be quite difficult meetings I imagine quite emotionally charged? These mediators are trained aren’t they?  You are in safe hands if you do go down this route?

Absolutely yeah they’re fully trained I  know lots of very good experienced mediators in the local area so yes  you’re in safe hands if you choose that process.

And is there anything you wouldn’t discuss in mediation?

No I mean I think most things are open to discussion. I think it has to be sort of an open forum so that as I say the couple can feel confident that they can go and talk about things comfortably the mediator would certainly steer you away from anything that might be sort of contentious or might make the mediation process break down I suppose.
So I think you know you have to put your trust in your mediator to move forward with the process.

And what if it did break down, because I imagine there can be circumstances where you just cannot come to an agreement, what if it did break down?

Yeah I mean we do see that happen, but I think the important thing to bear in mind is that couples that have come through that process have very often reached a level of understanding. There might be a few distinct issues that they can’t agree on. Certainly at that point we would say come back to your solicitors and if you’ve had a solicitor throughout the process it’s helpful because they’re up to speed with where you’re at, what you’ve spoken about and what issues remain to be resolved. So yes you would go back to your solicitors and we’d sort of go back to the more traditional method of trying to negotiate those outstanding issues through either correspondence or phone calls or whatever.

I mean certainly at Miller Sands we try to avoid going to court if at all possible because it’s a stressful thing to do. It’s also quite costly and it’s never never really the best option for the family if it can be avoided.

So do you do see situations where the mediation breaks down, which it implies that most the time it doesn’t most of the time this is a successful way forward?

It certainly can be a successful way forward. Yes it’s certainly something to try if parties come to us and they’re saying you know we’re on amicable terms we want to try and reach a resolution between ourselves without having somebody dictate it to us. It’s certainly something I would recommend.

So how would you start the process if you thought, right okay this is what we want to do, how would you go ahead?

What I would suggest people do is, first of all it is important to find a solicitor and get some advice about how to move forwards and whether your case is suitable for mediation. At Miller Sands we have a 30 minute free consultation session for family clients where they can come in and meet one of our expert family solicitors for half an hour meeting free of charge. We can assess their case, talk to them more about mediation and whether it’s suitable, and then I can give contact details for local mediators.

I’ve got lots of contacts in mediation and I could certainly refer them to somebody that I think might be right for their case.

And it’s not arbitration is it? I mean mediation arbitration sometimes get muddled up but I guess arbitration is more about deciding who’s right and who’s wrong and this is not about that.

That’s right I mean it’s very very often not like that in family law,  it’s something to be treated completely differently I would say.

Well thank you Rebecca and if people are interested in finding out more about mediation or more about the work of your organisation where should they go?

So we’ve got a great website so if they visit our website which is Miller Sands, and we’re based in Impington, all of the details are on our website and as I say we’ve got the free consultation sessions so that we can give give clients that bit more information when they come through the door.

Lovely talking to yo, thanks so much and glad you got here. I hope you manage to leave okay without ending up around the one-way system again but nice to chat to you, really thank you.

If you would like to discuss mediation or would like to book a 30 minute consultation with Rebecca then you can do so by clicking the link below:

“We would like to thank everyone at Miller Sands for the way you have handled what turn out to be more difficult than it first appeared and would recommend your services.”
- Mr & Mrs G, Oakington