Frequently Asked Questions

Is mediation compulsory?

Family mediation is a voluntary process and nobody can be compelled to take part against his or her will. Mediation only provides better outcomes for families when parents and families agree to finding a way forward that looks to the future. Under these circumstances it can be helpful in enabling people to reach their own negotiated agreements that may include a parenting plan to empower parents to co-parent after separation.

The first appointment is always an individual one so you can learn more about what is expected of you and what we can offer. This enables you to decide whether mediation is a way forward at this time.

Joint appointments are only arranged after both parents have attended an individual appointment and the both have agreed they wish to move forward.

If you have any concerns about taking part in mediation or are worried about meeting your partner or ex -partner – perhaps due to abuse, harassment or intimidation – please convey this to us before your first appointment. We will ensure that your concerns are addressed.

Your safety is a priority.

What is Mediation?

Firstly, mediation is not counselling! These are two very different processes and although both can be beneficial, we recommend if you are involved in counselling, that you complete that process before entering our service.

The Family Mediation Council define family mediation as
‘Where an independent, professionally trained mediator helps you and your ex- partner to work out an agreement about issues such as:

• Arrangements  for children after you break up ( residence or contact)
• Communication after relationship
• Child maintenance payments
• Finances (for example, what to do with your house, savings, pension, debts)

It can also be used to help with the other issues you might face, for example, your children keeping in touch with their grandparents, step families, or in-laws. Mediation can also be helpful when arrangements you’ve made before need to change, particularly as your children grow up.

If you apply to the court to sort out your issues, the judge will make the decisions. You will need to stick to these decisions even if one or both of you feel unhappy about them.

Mediation can help you be a decision maker. No-one can make you do anything against your wishes. The mediator will help you find a solution which works for you both and explain how you can make an agreement legally binding.

A judge will expect you to have considered mediation before you apply to a court to hear your case. They can refuse to hear your case until you have done this.

Most people who start mediation will reach agreement without having to go to court. This is best for children as being subject to court proceedings can be stressful for children. If you need to formally end a marriage or civil partnership, you will need to apply to the court to do this.

Does Mediation work for everyone?

No! FMNI Mediators are professionally trained and assessment of cases for suitability for this service is robust and as such some cases are not suitable for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is a simply issue around the timing of entering the process. It may be right for one and not for the other, perhaps due to the circumstances around the break up.

End of relationship counselling may be more suitable prior to seeking mediation, these services are available at other agencies such as RelateNI or AccordNI. A recently diagnosed illness, a recent bereavement, later stages of pregnancy, unmanaged addictions, unwillingness to compromise are just some of life’s challenges that may impact on your ability to fully engage with the process.

We are happy to talk through the best option for you at the initial ‘intake’ appointment.

Our service is not here to judge, we recognise that life can throw up difficult times and mediation may be a process that can help later, when all connected to the issue are more able to engage fully.

Is Mediation Confidential?

Discussions in Family Mediation are confidential. This confidentiality can only be breached if a crime is alleged against a child, the mediator considers someone to be at serious risk of harm or allegations are made of criminal/fraudulent activity.

The confidentiality is within the organisation and also requests that other than independent legal advice that you also maintain this confidentiality as the discussions and negotiations involve areas of your family life that are private to you.

Mediators and FMNI staff do not share information between clients or act as messenger, so please do not request this.

Should I see a Solicitor first?

The mediator will note agreements reached at each appointment and this will form the basis for your Mediated Agreement.  This is not legally binding, it is based on your commitment to the process.

The main ingredients are your trust and your honesty and the recognition of the challenge of compromising to ensure that a personal, private family agreement on how you move forward with family life can be reached. However, this can form the basis of a legal agreement if you are seeking a legal divorce.

In mediation you do your own negotiating, removing the need for lengthy and expensive legal action, the separation or family disagreement belongs to you and you are responsible for the future well-being of your children.

FMNI believes in empowering parents, we trust parents as responsible adults seeking the very best for their children. As parents you are best placed to put the needs of your children first without the need to delegate to another.

Mediators help you generate options that suit the current needs of your family and you can test any agreements between appointments. You will also learn new skills to assist you manage family life in the future and new civil means of communicating to avoid conflict.

You may consult with a solicitor prior to and after agreement to advise you and to make any joint proposals legally binding if so required.  Mediators do not at any time give legal advice.

How can I access the funded mediation service?

Funding has been provided by the Health and Social Care Board since 2009  that  enables separated parents  who have not yet begun Court proceedings to avail of the process at no charge, so that they may focus on the needs and rights of the child and gain the skills to manage their separation and future co-parenting. This includes individual pre-mediation assessment appointments, pre-mediation preparation ( if required), around four joint appointments, a parenting plan and/or a mediated agreement and ( if assessed as appropriate) Direct Child Consultation.

If I am not accessing the funded service, how much will it cost?

Family Mediation can vary in cost for those not using the separated parents service, depending on the number of sessions, number of participants and complexity of the case.

If you are eligible for Legal Aid and prior authority has been obtained from the Legal Services Agency via your Solicitor , the cost of mediation may be met for you.  If your family has been referred by Social Services, the Trust may cover the cost.  If you are experiencing a private family dispute the cost will be divided between all participants. 

Cost are calculated on full cost recovery basis as we are a ‘not for profit’ registered charity. We do also try to offer some cases pro bono, when it has been assessed that mediation would be beneficial to the family members, but costs are a deterrent. We are happy to discuss the benefits of mediation and potential cost with you.

How many appointments will I need?

Other than the two individual , pre-mediation appointments, most funded sessions are between 3-5, each lasting around 1.5 -2 hours.

Where can I access family mediation?

The service is available at venues across NI as well as the main office of 7 University Street Belfast.  If you anticipate difficulty using mediation, e.g. because you have a disability or language difficulties please let us know so that we can make any necessary arrangements.

What next?

Call Family Mediation Northern Ireland on 028 9024 3265

My ex-partner is very persuasive and controlling, will the mediator take sides?

Mediators are experienced professionals , trained to work in a variety of family dispute situations and identify behaviours and attitudes that may not be helpful in a mediation setting. Mediators remain impartial and focussed on the needs of the child and facilitating a fair negotiating process whereby both parents are empowered to speak and be heard. Mediators retain the right to end mediation if parents are unable to move forward.

Can I bring someone with me to mediation appointment?

Please do not bring another person with you to your appointments as they will only be seated in the waiting area. You are the negotiator, you will be supported to have your voice heard.

What if there is a chance we may get back together?

This will be tested at your individual intake appointment and again in first joint session. Your mediator may recommend that at this time other services may be more beneficial.

How do I have my children involved?

The voice of the child is of extreme importance to family mediators and to moving parents forward to find solutions and agreements. In general, the needs and wishes of very young children are brought into the process by bought parents. Older children may be spoken to by a mediator who is a specialist in direct child consultation. The case is assessed for appropriateness for this aspect of the service and requires both parents to consent. The child meets the mediator separately and has control over the information that is given to the parents and their mediator.

My solicitor told me to ask for ‘Shuttle mediation’, what does this mean?

Shuttle mediation is a model of last resort and is not promoted by family mediators. It is when parents are in different rooms in the building and the mediator literally ‘shuttles’ back and forth between the parents. It is not ideal in family mediation but is used sometimes to allay fears and misunderstandings with the intention of bringing both parents together in the second session. It may be used when allegations of violence or abuse have been made. It is best, given you have children together, that you are seated in the same room to discuss how you will minimise the negative impact on your children and find agreement on co-parenting for the future.

I don’t think my ex will want to take part in this, but my Solicitor tells me to make an appointment, is there any point?

Your solicitor is right to encourage you to make an initial individual appointment. This one hour appointment may be useful to help you focus on the way forward.
Often we are advised that the ex- partner will not come in but when invited many do respond positively. We believe, it is always worth trying but acknowledge that for many the time is just not right and our service is not what they want right now, but may be at another time.

Will the same mediator deal with all individual pre-mediation appointments?

Due to the demand on the service and the various locations we work from, it is not always possible that the same mediator meets with all those party to the dispute initially.

However, once the case has been accepted the Mediator allocated to the case will continue working with you until completion.