Can Family Mediation Be A Better Way To Divorce?

Paul Hajek | 4 Jul 2013


tim bishop solicitor in salisbury photo

This is another in our series of guest posts by other leading law firms.

 I am grateful to Tim  Bishop Senior Partner of Bonallack & Bishop Solicitors in Salisbury for agreeing to provide this post on family mediation in divorce.

You just can’t avoid some of the harsh facts of life in the early 21st century United Kingdom.  One such life changing fact is that almost half of all marriages fail.  To be specific, the Office for National Statistics’ calculations based on 2010 marriage, divorce and mortality statistics state that 42% of marriages will end in divorce.

Which Age Group has the Highest Divorce Rate?

You could almost toss a coin as you leave your wedding ceremony to get a fair guess at the ultimate future of one of your major life relationships.  In addition, the age group with the highest divorce rate is the 40 to 44 year olds, who are the people most likely to have children and/or step children and own property, both inevitably factors in any divorce settlement.

The Emotional Turmoil Caused by Divorce

Hearts and homes get broken by divorce – a cliché but too often true none the less.  Most adults who have experienced divorce, rate it as a far worse experience than bereavement, and businesses have long recognised that they can lose many months, maybe even years’ worth of productivity from employees going through divorce.  Critically however, it is children who suffer the most and the current consensus amongst mental health specialists in the field is that the damage caused by divorce to a child’s emotional health is usually irreparable.

How Emotional Damage May Be Reduced?

If there is any way, any way at all, to reduce the level of emotional damage, family and societal disruption and chaos that often surrounds the process of divorce, it must surely bear careful consideration.  Family mediation has, over the last couple of decades proved itself to be one such way.

What is Family Mediation?

If it works, family mediation most importantly saves the ex-partners from what can be the emotionally gruelling, grim-faced slug-fest of open hostilities in court where they can be battered and bewildered by a process that they can’t control, apparently directed by legal professionals who seemed determined to establish a winner and loser at any emotional cost to their clients.  That of course is the nightmare scenario, but regardless of the degree of harm done to what remains of the ex-partners’ willingness to communicate with each other by that thrashing out a divorce settlement in court, harm is still, in that confrontational arena, inevitably done.

How Can Family Mediation Offer Hope?

Family mediation offers hope to the ex-partners that their divorce won’t birth a toxic legacy that will blight their and their children’s futures.  It works because both parties recognise this and really want it work for them and are prepared to deal with any scepticism and antagonisms rather than let those natural negativities de-rail the process.

What is the Role of a Family Mediator?

A family mediator helps the parties identify areas of agreement, thus forming a solid foundation from which to develop the process and they will provide the impartial help necessary for agreement to be reached where formally there was none.  The process, under the watchful eye of such a family mediator (the best of whom are usually experienced family lawyers), will steer the parties away from indulging in rounds of blame and counter-blame and support them to make their own mutually agreed decisions unpressured by the regimented and time constrained court process and ominously ever-ticking ‘fare meters’ of the lawyers.  The average cost for a court contested divorce will always run into many thousands of pounds; the price of family mediation rarely exceeds a few hundred.

How Can Children Benefit from Family Mediation?

If there are children involved in the divorce, they will gain more confidence in the future and lose less emotional well-being by being aware of the atmosphere of co-operation between parents engaging with family mediation as compared to living with one or other parent who is in a state of all out conflict with the other.  That sounds like humane common sense, but all too often divorce leaves children traumatised after having been used as emotional pawns or simply neglected in the course of one or other parents’ pursuit of their vengeful day in court.

How Cost Effective is Family Mediation?

What’s more, according to the “Value for Money Report” prepared by the National Audit Office, family mediation really can find solutions to family law problems swiftly and cheaply.

According to the sample of cases considered in this report, family mediators were able to resolve disputes in as little as just 110 days – which is impressive when compared to the average length of non-mediated cases they studied, which took, on average, a truly remarkable 435 days! In addition, the report’s findings were that the average legal bill charged [to each client] by family mediators for concluding a family law dispute was less than 19% of the legal costs incurred in cost disputes which had to be dealt with by the family court.

At the end of the day successful family mediation will result in an agreement engineered by and which satisfies both parties.  It will usually cover all the practicalities necessary to enable each party and any children to move on with their lives without residual resentment or frustrations and with as greater degree of economic stability as possible. It will cover such areas as financial arrangements, division of assets and arrangements regarding the children.  In the making, it might have drawn on the assistance of other relevant professionals to ensure that it is workable and fair, but finally it will stand as the work of those it is intended to benefit and will succeed on the basis on that investment of goodwill.

Tim Bishop is senior partner of Bonallack and Bishop – Solicitors with a specialist team of family mediators and divorce solicitors. For more information about family mediation,  visit the website at


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