If you are thinking about a divorce, your head will be full of worries about the future. Will you be able to afford two households? Who gets what? And how on earth do you "share the children"? The last thing you want is uncertainty about the divorce procedure. Do you instruct a solicitor or do you come to a mediator? Here is a brief overview of the best possible use of both since the two approaches complement each other.
Mediation is usually by far and away the best process to use when considering arrangements for your children. You work together as parents, with the mediator's help: round the table discussions are far more fruitful and less divisive than an exchange of solicitors' correspondence or, heaven forbid, contested Court proceedings. In mediation, an accredited mediator can give your children a voice by talking to them in an informal relaxed way and relaying their wishes and feelings back to you. This can be invaluable in helping you do the best possible job for them and in clarifying what they really think and want to happen.
So far as finances are concerned, if you are divorcing, you are aiming for a Consent Order which will record your eventual agreement and make it binding. This Consent Order must be connected to a formal divorce. So, one of you needs to file a divorce petition. You can download a divorce petition and file it yourself, but many people prefer to ask a solicitor to do this for them, so that the process is handled correctly. You will also probably want to take your solicitor's advice on any financial agreement that you eventually reach. So: at least one of you needs to find a solicitor to start the divorce.
However, using a solicitor to take you through the process of disclosing your finances and negotiating a settlement can be time-consuming, expensive and divisive. This is where mediation comes in again. One of you contacts a mediation service, who will arrange to see each of you separately to get the background of your financial situation. Your mediator will also use this meeting to explain how mediation works. Here at Focus, we make a point of giving you the forms you need to complete at that first meeting, so that you come back to your first joint session with all your disclosure ready. We waste no time in helping you both establish the value of your home, the mortgage, any savings, pensions, debts: in short, we help you establish a clear picture of your finances for yourselves and for anyone advising you. This is an essential first step to sorting out any financial agreement.
In your second or third joint sessions we can help you negotiate a settlement. We look at the equity in the house, division of savings, allocation of debt, and provision of retirement income through pensions. We also look at your income and outgoings and help you work out your budgets in your separate households, which enables us to help you set an appropriate level of maintenance and child support. We then write up all your figures in an open financial statement and your agreement in a memorandum of understanding. You are recommended to take both of these documents to your solicitors, who will draft a consent order for you. This will be put before a judge so that it can be made legally binding.
Your solicitor will then be able to finalise your divorce with a decree absolute, unless you have done it yourself. As you can see, mediation is a useful procedure both for children and for finance, and can be educative and even healing at this difficult time. However, solicitors play an important part in the process too. So, mediators and solicitors together help separating couples sort out the many (often teething) problems inevitably arising and to reach an agreement. This way, people are able to leave this unpleasant episode in their lives behind them as fast and cost-effectively as possible.