Most of our clients and service providers agree that mediation is a much better and less stressful process than going to Family Court. The process is relatively informal and you have more control over the outcome. We hope that by understanding the FDR mediation process better, you can feel more comfortable with the idea of a mediation session.
A joint FDR mediation session involves your FDR mediator sitting down with you and the other ‘party’ to the dispute (that is, the other parent or guardian, and/or family/whānau members), with the aim of deciding on how and when each of you will look after your children after separation.
In some circumstances, a joint meeting may not be possible (ie if one of the parties is based overseas or in a different city) and the mediation might be held by video conferencing (such as Skype).
The mediator’s role is to help you make decisions that are in the best interests of your children. They will not try to get couples back together, or make judgements about who is right or wrong. They are there to facilitate the discussion and help you draw up a formal plan; they will not make any decisions for you.
During the session, everyone will have equal time to have their say. Your mediator may have suggestions, and may ask to talk to each party separately.
Keep in mind that a session may take two – three hours, but you will have a few breaks in between.
Subject to certain conditions you may bring a support person, and any special cultural, disability and language needs will also be accommodated.
Legal representation and advice
You can get legal advice at any step during the mediation process over the phone or on breaks, and sometimes lawyers may be allowed into the room if the mediator determines it is appropriate. Your mediator will talk to both parties in advance about lawyers being present.
Important issues to decide
The mediator will help you work things out relating to the care and contact arrangements for your children. For example:
- pick up and drop off arrangements;
- where your children spend the holidays;
- how you will handle birthdays and other celebrations;
- location of school;
- their names (some people want to change surnames after separation); and
- religious instruction.
Details like this will be drawn up into a Parenting Plan in the session, by the mediator.
Coming to an agreement about your children
At the end of the session your FDR mediator will ask both parties to sign a Parenting Agreement. Having a written agreement avoids misunderstandings and disputes over what was agreed.
At this stage, you do not have to do anything else, and you can keep this agreement private (between the parties).
Alternatively, you can formalise the agreement by making an application to the Family Court to have your agreement turned into a Court Order (Consent Order). You will also be given a copy of a form that confirms that you have attended mediation, and the details of the agreement.
If agreement is not reached
Most people who attend FDR mediation reach an agreement. If however you are unable to reach agreement, the FDR mediator will talk with each party about other options, such as:
In a small number of cases, your mediator could recommend separate conflict and communication coaching, so you can learn skills that will help you communicate more effectively, and assist with reaching a positive outcome in any future negotiations / mediations. This is not funded and the costs of this service will need to be met by the parties.
- Another mediation session
Sometimes a mediator may recommend that you try another session. Again, additional mediation is not funded and the costs of this service will need to be met by the parties.
- Court - Judicial decision required
If you cannot reach agreement, your mediator will give you a form (‘s12 form’) that you can take directly to the Family Court. Then a judge will decide on the care and contact arrangements for your children.
What about other family and relationship disputes, outside of ‘Care and Contact’ issues?
FDR mediation is specifically set up to focus on the care and contact arrangements for your children.
Other types of family disputes are treated separately; for example, extended / blended / re-partnered family issues, or elder care disputes; as well as relationship property, and wills and estate disputes.
We have set up other services to help with problems like this. Find out more about General Family Mediation and Counselling, and arbitration services for dealing with relationship property, trusts, wills and estates disputes