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What Lies Behind TV's 'Mr v Mrs: Call The Mediator'

28/06/2016 13:24 | Updated 28 June 2016

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Millions of TV viewers are currently seeing a glimpse of a hidden, private side of divorce, as BBC Two's 'Mr v Mrs: Call The Mediator' lifts the lid on separated couples trying to sort future arrangements.

The programme came about because as CEO of National Family Mediation I decided to grant exclusive access to our expert mediation services, enabling the fly-on-the-wall three-part series to be made.

Hoisting such a raw, personal subject into the spotlight has led many people to ask me: 'Why?'' So let me explain.

For decades the 'traditional' route taken by separating or divorcing couples has been to quickly beat a path to a high street solicitor for a long drawn-out battle with your ex. It can last months if not years, and it can cost the earth.

There are the material things - sorting arrangements for joint property, finance, debts, pensions and the rest.

And where children are involved arrangements you need to sort where they'll live, when they'll see the other parent; their education; maintenance and child support; holiday arrangements, and more.

The process can deteriorate into a destructive, competitive and litigious contest as couples adopt the combative divorce mindset.

Children

Then finally, months or even years later, when the court delivers its verdict the arrangements rarely suit anyone's interests, least of all the children.

For all the upheaval and life-changing outcomes, most couples enter separation entirely unprepared, ill-equipped with information about how to go about things.

They're often completely unaware that, away from a solicitor office and the heat of the court room, there's a simpler way to settle things - keeping them in the driving seat, influencing and controlling the outcomes, rather than having them handed down by a court.

That way is called family mediation. Slowly, surely, people right across the country are beginning to come to terms with it. And most of those who take just a few minutes to understand what mediation is then accept and embrace it as a more sensible way of managing divorce or separation, and making a new start.

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TV viewers now know that mediation does not try to keep couples together. It's not counselling. Mediation accepts that change happens and, instead of dwelling on what might have been, it helps everyone involved move forward to the next stages of their lives - apart - in a positive way.

It's a voluntary and confidential process in which a trained expert mediator helps couples discuss and negotiate all aspects of a divorce or separation, helping them reach joint decisions about the future without using a court.

It has a huge number of benefits. It's significantly quicker than the courtroom route. Official figures on legally-aided mediation show that the average time for a mediated case to be completed is 110 days, compared to 435 days for court cases on similar issues. That's nine and a half months of the anguish, stress and conflict of a long legal process saved.

Control

It allows families to remain in control of their destinies, their finances and their new family relationships, rather than having those things decided by a judge who, whatever the rights and wrongs, will have little understanding of the family circumstances.

It's less confrontational and stressful than a courtroom battle. That's because in mediation you sit with a trained mediator to discuss and consider all the things that need to be settled. That's not to say coming to mediation is a bed of roses. Discussing and making arrangements about children and possessions is difficult. The evidence is there on our BBC Two screens. There's a lot at stake, and they're things that truly matter. But expert mediators will take simple, practical steps to reduce friction between the couple and, if necessary, the mediation can take place with the couple in separate rooms.

Mediators are trained in all aspects of family law and can provide vital support in property, finance and all the other things that count. The personal and focused approach is vital and enables the mediation process to be flexible; negotiated to suit your family's unique circumstances. There are no off-the-shelf solutions in mediation.

Money

And there's the money. Mediation is usually far cheaper than going to court. Data from Legal Aid cases shows the average cost per client of mediation is around a fifth of that for court cases. It has fixed costs with flexible payment terms and remains free if you're eligible for Legal Aid.

Our expert mediators achieve successful resolution of all issues in over eight out of ten cases.

With four in ten marriages ending in divorce, it's got to make sense for everyone to understand there is an alternative way of settling separation.

And so vital awareness-raising is what gave birth to 'Mr v Mrs: Call The Mediator'. I couldn't be prouder of our mediators (including Irene Jackson, above), staff, the programme mediators or the couples who allowed themselves to be filmed and the film company Wild Pictures who worked compassionately with a very difficult and personal subject.

The more people know there's an alternative, the more will take it up.

To find your nearest National Family Mediation service simply type in your postcode at www.nfm.org.uk/local or call 0300 4000 636.

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