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In this complete guide to divorce mediation in the UK, I'll explain:

  • What is divorce mediation?
  • What are the pros and cons of divorce mediation?
  • How much does it cost?
  • And much more...

Let's dive in...

What Is Divorce Mediation?

Divorce mediation is a process where a mediator helps divorcing couples resolve their differences and come to an agreement, without having to go to court. The mediator is a neutral third party who helps facilitate the divorce negotiation process.

The main advantage of divorce mediation is that it's cheaper, faster and less stressful than going to court.

Divorce mediation infographic

What Can Divorce Mediation Cover?

Divorce mediation can cover a wide range of issues, including:

The divorce mediator will help you identify and resolve issues, and then assist you with drafting a settlement agreement that formalises the arrangement.

This can include everything from: What happens to the <bloglink>family home<bloglink>; to who the children should live with and what the visitation rights of the other parent will be.  It can also include very complex matters such as how any pensions might be shared, or what the tax arrangements should be following the sale of any joint assets.

Note: Mediation can equally be used to help couples through the process of <bloglink>civil partnership dissolution<bloglink>.

What Are The Benefits Of Divorce Mediation?

There are several key benefits to divorce mediation, compared with going through the courts:

  • It's cheaper - divorce mediation is generally much cheaper than going to court.

  • It's faster - the divorce timeline can be sped up significantly if you use divorce mediation.

  • It's less stressful - going to court can be a very stressful experience, whereas mediation is a more informal and relaxed process.

  • It results in a better outcome for the children - divorce mediation is often considered to be more beneficial for children than going to court. This is because it allows parents to reach an agreement without having to air their dirty laundry in public.

  • It helps preserve relationships - one of the main goals of divorce mediation is to help couples divorce amicably, which can help preserve their relationships post-divorce.

  • It results in a more equitable divorce settlement - because divorce mediation is a voluntary process, both parties need to agree to any settlement agreement that is reached. This means that the divorce settlement is likely to be more equitable than if it was decided by a court.

  • You're in control- with divorce mediation you decide what's discussed and what isn't, and you set the timetable (rather than waiting a long time for a court date).

  • It's private- divorce mediation is a confidential process, which means that any discussions or agreements reached will remain private (unlike the courts, which is a public record).

How Does Divorce Mediation Work?

There are typically 3 phases in divorce mediation, which works as follows:

  1. You attend a <bloglink>Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting<bloglink> (MIAM) to determine whether mediation could work for you.
  2. If you <bloglink>choose mediation<bloglink>, you then have a number of sessions with the mediator who helps you identify issues, and negotiate a resolution.
  3. The couple then drafts a settlement agreement, which is signed by both parties and becomes legally binding.

Let's break this down into steps...

Preparing for the mediation process

The first step in divorce mediation is to attend a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). This is a meeting with a mediator, where you will have the opportunity to discuss whether divorce mediation could work for you.

If you choose to proceed with divorce mediation, the mediator will help you identify issues and negotiate a resolution.  

Prior to attending you first mediation session, it's a good idea to try and gather as much information as possible about your divorce, and identify what the main issues are.

This might include:

  • The date of your marriage and any separation
  • Details of any divorce proceedings that have already taken place
  • Details of any children you have together, including their ages and custody arrangements
  • Details of any assets you own, including the <bloglink>family home<bloglink> and any savings or investments
  • Details of any debts you have, including mortgages and credit card debts
  • Your income, and what you spend on living costs - such as transport, utilities and food
  • Details of any agreements or arrangements you have already made together
A man attends a divorce mediation session

Attending the mediation sessions

If you choose to attend divorce mediation, you will then have a number of sessions with the mediator. This is where you will identify any issues that need to be resolved, and negotiate a resolution.

In the introductory meeting, you and your ex-partner will usually meet separately with a trained mediator. You’ll then have joint sessions where all three of you sit down together and discuss how to settle your differences in an amicable way, with the mediator acting as a kind of referee.

If you really can't stand to be in the same room as each other some mediators can offer 'shuttle mediation',  where you and your partner sit in separate rooms, and the mediator moves back and forth between you (though most mediators will charge more for this option).

The mediator will help you to talk about the practicalities of separation in a safe and cooperative environment. They can help you to reach an agreement on all aspects of your divorce, including: child custody, child support, and division of finances.

A mediator's office
The mediator will often meet you at their office or, increasingly, online.

Sometimes the mediator will ask each of you to make a short statement explaining your perspective at the start of the session, before helping you work through the issues to try and reach an agreement.

Top Tip:

Try to listen to your spouse and understand their point of view. You might not think that they are right, but it is important for you both to be open-minded and try compromising in order to reach an agreement.

An icon of a lightbulb

Finalising the agreement

Once you've reached a compromise your mediator will record it in a ‘memorandum of understanding',  which is a written agreement between you and your partner. It outlines what has been decided during mediation, however it isn't legally binding until both parties have had the opportunity to take independent legal advice.

You should take the memorandum of understanding to a lawyer, who will then turn it into a legally binding <bloglink>consent order.<bloglink> This will cost you a few hundred pounds, but it's important to have legal representation to make sure that the final <bloglink>divorce settlement is fair<bloglink> and will be upheld by the courts. Having a binding consent order also means you can take your ex-partner to court if they don’t stick to something you agreed.

Remember to be open and honest about any finances. If you hide anything during the mediation it could invalidate your consent order later down the line, or could even get you in trouble with the courts if you have it validated as a consent order.

A Form E disclosure warning
If you deceive the court about your finances, there can be serious consequences.

If you have children the mediator may also help you create a parenting plan, which sets out how you will share parental responsibilities, such as contact arrangements and decision-making.  

The parenting plan can then be turned into a child arrangements order by the court, which is legally binding and can be enforced if necessary.

How Long Does Divorce Mediation Take?

The divorce mediation process can take as little as one session (in addition to the <bloglink>MIAM<bloglink>), or may continue over several months. It all depends on the complexity of your divorce, and how willing you and your partner are to reach an agreement.

An average divorce meditation usually takes between 2 to 6 sessions. How long it takes you and your spouse will also depend on:

  • Whether you have children together and need to make arrangements for their care;
  • How much property and debt you have to divide between you;
  • If either of you is <bloglink>asking for spousal support<bloglink> (maintenance); and
  • How well you are able to communicate with each other.

Each individual session will usually last between 60 and 90 minutes.

Image of a watch

When Should We Start Divorce Mediation?

Ideally, divorce mediation should take place as soon as possible after you've decided to divorce or end your civil partnership. It can be difficult to resolve matters if you've already started divorce proceedings or issued a divorce petition.

You may have been separated for some time before starting divorce mediation, but it's best to start the process when both of you are still on reasonably good terms. This will make it more likely that you'll be able to reach an agreement, and the sooner you start, the sooner you can resolve any issues and move on with your lives.

If there are children involved, it's especially important to start mediation early so that you can agree on arrangements for their care and upbringing.

How Much Does Divorce Mediation Cost?

The cost of divorce mediation will vary depending on the mediator you use but is typically between £150 to £300 per person, per session.

So, if you reach an agreement within the average time of about 3 sessions, the total cost will be around £900 to £1800 per couple.

This includes the cost of your first assessment session, the MAIM.

The cost can increase substantially if you need a lot of sessions; have very complex matters to resolve (such as business interests or foreign assets); or if you use a specialist or high-end mediator, the total cost could be up to £8000 each.

Image of a pound coin

Other factors that can impact the cost include whether you have an online-only mediation (which will be cheaper); and whether you have joint sessions or you use shuttle mediation (which will cost more).  

However, this is still much cheaper and quicker than going to court, where <bloglink>a divorce can cost<bloglink> on average £20,000 and take a year or more.

Don't forget, if you want it to be legal binding you'll also need a solicitor to turn your agreement into a <bloglink>consent order costing<bloglink> anywhere from £600 upwards depending on the complexity of your arrangements. You'll also need to pay the court fee of £53 to have your consent order approved.

Can I Get Legal Aid For Divorce Mediation?

If you're on a low income or receiving certain benefits such as Universal Credit you may be eligible for legal aid to help pay the costs of divorce mediation.

You can use the GOV.UK website to <bloglink>check if you qualify for legal aid<bloglink> and how much it would cover. You'll need to provide evidence of your income, savings, and capital  (such as property or investments).

If you qualify for legal aid, the mediator will be paid directly by the Legal Aid Agency. You won't have to pay anything.

If only one of you is eligible for legal aid, the other partner will need to pay for their share themselves, although the legal aid will cover the cost of the initial MIAM assessment session for both of you.

What Happens If Divorce Mediation Fails?

While average success rates are at divorce mediation are very high, sometimes couples just can't reach an agreement.

If that happens you'll need to consider other options such as divorce arbitration or going to court.

This is something to consider before embarking on mediation. If you are both very entrenched in your positions or unlikely to compromise, then paying for a failed mediation before ending up in court anyway will only add to your overall costs.

If things do fail, your mediator will still sign a certificate to prove you've at least tried to mediate, which will allow you to apply to court for a divorce determination.  

When Is Mediation Not Appropriate In A Divorce?

There are some circumstances when divorce mediation isn't appropriate, such as:

  • If you can't have a civil conversation with your ex about the divorce;
  • You need someone to take sides and give you legal advice (a mediator can't do this);  
  • You want your mediator to act as a judge and make decisions for you (they won't);
  • If you suspect your spouse will be dishonest with the mediator (for example by hiding or not disclosing all their financial assets).
  • There are any allegations of domestic abuse or intimidation.
Domestic abuse

What Are The Disadvantages Of Divorce Mediation?

The main disadvantage of divorce mediation is that it requires both partners to be committed to the process and willing to work together to come to an agreement. If one of you simply refuses to engage, there's nothing the other spouse can do.

Another downside is that divorce mediation can take a long time, sometimes several months, so it 's not suitable if you need a quick divorce.

If you can't reach agreement, mediation can also end up dragging out your divorce and adding to costs, without ultimately resolving matters.

What Are The Alternatives To Divorce Mediation?

If divorce mediation doesn't seem right for you, there are other options to consider, such as:

  • Divorce arbitration. This is a process whereby you and your spouse appoint an arbitrator (often a lawyer or retired judge) to hear evidence and make a binding decision for you. It can be quicker than mediation as it doesn't require both partners to agree on every issue, but it can be more expensive. The main advantage is that you're certain to reach a decision, as the arbitrator will decide the final outcome.
  • Collaborative law. This is another alternative to divorce mediation. It's similar in that it involves both spouses working to reach an agreement, but this time you each have your own lawyer who negotiates on you behalf, rather than a neutral mediator.
  • Divorce court. If you simply can't agree on anything, the only other option is to go to court and have a judge decide your divorce settlement for you. Generally, the <bloglink>divorce court process<bloglink> is the most expensive and time-consuming option.
A divorce  arbitrator
A divorce arbitrator will make a binding decision, like a judge would.

Can Your Mediator Give Legal Advice?

Your mediator is a trained divorce professional, but they're not qualified to give you legal advice. You can, however, choose to have a lawyer present at mediation sessions if you wish, or seek legal advice before or during the process.

Is Mediation Confidential?

Yes, divorce mediation is confidential. This means that anything you discuss during mediation sessions can't be used as evidence in court.

Where Will The Mediation Take Place?

Divorce mediation can take place at any location that's convenient for both spouses. This might be a mediator's office, your lawyer's office, or even your own home.

Can We Mediate Online?

Yes, divorce mediation can be conducted over the phone or online via video conferencing. This can be a great option if you live in different cities or countries, or if you simply can't meet in person.

Is Divorce Mediation The Same As Relationship Counselling?

No, divorce mediation is not the same as relationship counselling. Mediation is a process focused on coming to a agreement about your divorce, whereas relationship counselling is about trying to repair your marriage.

How Do I Find A Divorce Mediator?

When searching for a family mediator, ensure you pick one who is:

  • Accredited by the Family Mediation Council
  • Is experienced in divorce cases similar to yours
  • Who you feel comfortable talking to

When looking for a mediator, you can use the Family Mediation Council <bloglink>database.<bloglink>

The family mediation council logo

What Are The Principles Of Mediation?

The key principles of mediation are:

  • Self-determination - this means that you and your partner have the final say on any decisions made and no one can force you to accept an agreement
  • Voluntary participation - you can choose to stop mediating at any time
  • Confidentiality - anything said during mediation cannot be used in court
  • Impartiality - the mediator must not take sides

So, there you have it: everything you need to know about divorce mediation in the UK. Hopefully this guide has helped you decide whether it's the right option for you. Good luck!

Do You Need Help Paying For A Divorce Or Mediation?

Whether you're going to court, or considering mediation, the cost of divorce is often a worry.

Well, there are now range of specialist funders who can help with your legal fees, and there is no need to pay upfront.

You can use the specialist funding for:

  • Mediations sessions
  • Solicitor led negotiations
  • Going to divorce court
  • And more...

Specialist funding is rapidly becoming one of the most convenient and cost-effective ways to pay for family law cases.

Check out my divorce funding page to learn more:

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Neil Johnstone is a barrister and the founder of Neil is a barrister with an interest in all forms of civil and family law, and has appeared at all Court levels, up to and including the Court of Appeal.

Neil started this site in response to a common problem he noticed: Clients were unable to pursue deserving cases due to a lack of up-front funds. Neil knew that better access to No-Win-No-Fee representation and legal funding could help bridge the gap, and so founded; a unique comparison site connecting clients, law firms, and specialist funders.

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