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What is hybrid mediation and when might I need it?

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Jennifer Allen - Director and Solicitor in our Family DepartmentAs a member of Resolution and the Family Mediation Counsel, Jennifer Allen is committed to keeping issues that arise between couples after the breakdown of their relationship, out-of-court, so far as possible. One way in which this can be achieved is through mediation or more specifically hybrid mediation. Hybrid mediation brings together the best of both family and civil mediation models and is a time-tested option when considering your mediation options.

What is the difference between hybrid mediation and traditional mediation?

Hybrid mediation can involve a combination of the following:

  1. Third Party Expertise Experts and family professionals can be brought into the process to help deal with complex, detailed and even difficult situations. Professionals often required in complex family mediation include; accountants, tax experts, valuers, independent financial advisers, independent social workers, psychiatrists, tax experts, pension actuaries and so on.
  2. Quicker Resolution Mediation can also involve both parties’ solicitors who will be available to help advise and support in a complex or difficult case. When lawyers are present to support and provide legal advice to their clients during the mediation process, this can save a lot of time. Alternatively, if the client feels they need to break from mediation to take legal advice, this can slow down the whole process. Involving lawyers in the private discussions between their client and the mediator can be extremely useful in helping the party to consider and formulate proposals;
  3. Shuttle Mediation “Shuttle mediation” can often be a way of facilitating hybrid mediation. The mediator spends time (shuttles between) each party and their lawyer on their own enabling the opportunity of exploring issues and proposals in greater detail;
  4. Facilitation from the mediator The process enables parties to speak to the mediator in confidence and this can assist the mediator in obtaining a deeper level of understanding where there may be common ground or a level of compromise which could in turn assist both parties moving forward and unlocking an impasse, or where parties could potentially get stuck, on their own in traditional family mediation. The mediator will agree with each of the parties what that client is content to feedback to the other party to progress the discussions in mediation.

What are the advantages of hybrid mediation?

  1. Saves time: As mentioned above, time can often be saved with parties feeling that they are fully supported during the process and having their lawyer on hand to provide advice;
  2. Explore options: It enables each of the parties to explore options with the mediator in greater detail without feeling that they have overcommitted, or they are providing information that they really would prefer to have considered before sharing the information. It enables parties to really think about the purpose of information being shared and how useful it will be;
  3. Helps with Safeguarding Issues: It can be particularly effective where there are significant safeguarding issues (for example in a case which relates to children) or where one person does not feel comfortable being in the same room or on a remote platform/screen as the other person. This can sometimes be daunting. Mediation can be adapted so that everyone feels comfortable and free and able to discuss the issues that need to be considered/resolved;
  4. Informed decision: It enables other professionals to use their skills, knowledge and propose solutions which may make the whole process an informed, considered and reality checked process. This in turn is then likely to achieve a workable, realistic and fair settlement which can be put into place straightaway.

Hybrid mediation can be undertaken before proceedings have been issued but can be used alongside the court process if the couples find that it may be possible to narrow issues and achieve a settlement outside and away from the stress, delays and costs of litigation. Any such agreement can be submitted to the court, through the court process, by consent.

Will this form of mediation be suitable for me?

Both separating couples will be seen separately by the hybrid mediator to assess whether hybrid mediation/mediation is appropriate and will look very carefully at the issues of that individual case and give particular consideration to safeguarding, potentially domestic abuse, if that is relevant and whether there has been a power imbalance during the course of the relationship or subsequent to separation. There may well be complex factors involved, for example safeguarding concerns due to domestic abuse, high conflict cases where communication has all but broken down, cases involving narcissistic personalities or a disagreement on legal principles. As part of the assessment meeting, each separating person will individually consider whether they think hybrid mediation is best for them. Hybrid mediation can be adapted to help separated families in both children and financial cases or both. In relation to finances, this may be a way to resolve issues such as the level of maintenance, how assets are considered (are they matrimonial or non-matrimonial assets), how they may be distributed upon separation, longer term support for children and how pension assets are treated, can all be dealt with within a hybrid mediation setting with expert input.

In relation to children, this can include issues relating to where the children should live, how much time they should spend with the other parent, specific issues such as schooling and parenting. It can also deal with complex issues such as international relocation of one parent and the children and how that might be managed to preserve the children's relationship with the parent that is not moving out of the jurisdiction. Equally, this is a mediation forum that may be used for issues such as internal (within the UK) relocation. It is not exclusive to divorcing couples but may be used for unmarried couples who might have a property dispute under TOLATA (Trust Of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996).

How long does it take?

Generally speaking, mediation sessions are likely to involve 3 to 5 sessions and each session will normally last 1.5 to 2 hours. It is, however, possible that parties and their professionals may wish to set aside longer than a couple of hours if they are properly prepared for, all information has been shared and documentation is to hand, then it may indeed be possible to achieve a settlement at the end of the day if enough time is set aside for mediation. The mediator can explain in advance the agenda format and timescales for meetings so that all parties have a clear understanding of how the process will work from the outset and everyone is fully prepared and informed.

Voluntary process

As with any mediation, it is important that both parties feel comfortable and the process is entirely voluntary. It requires both parties being committed to the process and willing to reach a resolution.

If you think that this form of mediation would be appropriate for you, or you wish to discuss with me whether or not I can be your lawyer to support you through this process, please do not hesitate to contact me.

The information contained on this page has been prepared for the purpose of this blog/article only. The content should not be regarded at any time as a substitute for taking legal advice.