Over the last 3 weeks there has been a documentary on BBC2 following various different family mediators in their work trying to help couples who’ve separated find resolutions to a range of issues. If you missed it then you can watch all three episodes on iplayer. As it’s a programme on mainstream TV it has not shown all of the mediations and it’s important to note this. Mediation sessions can vary in length but are averagely around 1.5 hours long so you are only seeing a snapshot of the work done in each meeting. I also feel obliged to make the point that I suspect the bits where the couples were talking constructively were not deemed to be as TV friendly as the bits where they were shouting at each other.

This is the first time cameras have ever filmed family mediation sessions for television (to my knowledge) and it is a significant step forward in making people aware of family mediation as an option. The couples involved were very brave to allow themselves to be filmed and I personally am very grateful to them because without them family mediation would never have made it on to our screens.

I have spoken to a number of friends who have watched the documentary and who have no background in law or divorce, as I was interested to see what other people thought. From their reactions I have put together the following questions and answers which I thought may be helpful for those that have seen the programmes:

1. Are mediation sessions always characterised by shouting and people storming out?

No they aren’t. Some people sit and discuss things constructively without any shouting or leaving the room. It really depends on each couple’s situation. For some couples they may have always communicated in such a way during the relationship and so this continues post separation. In some cases, one or both of the parties may not have properly dealt with the breakdown of the relationship. This can play a huge factor in determining whether somebody is in the right place to have discussions about what happens next.

2. Does mediation work?

Resoundingly yes! If you paid attention to the “updates” at the end you can see that some people were able to find a resolution following on from the mediation sessions. Sometimes couples resolve everything in mediation and walk away with a document summarising what they have decided to do. Other couples start the work to find a resolution and to communicate better in mediation but then move to finally resolve all issues in a different process. There are now a number of ways of resolving disputes that arise when a couple separates and you are not constrained by staying in a process just because you have started there. As things move on a couple can find that they feel it would be more effective to try a different process and that’s absolutely fine. Mediation is hugely flexible and can be used to resolve all issues, to narrow some issues, or just to get the ball rolling with helping a couple start talking to each other again post separation.

3. Is mediation exactly like you saw in the clips?

Essentially the process of mediation is bringing two people together to talk about issues to help them find a resolution. Practice between mediators varies hugely and different mediators work in different ways. Some mediators use a flip chart and some use a lap top. Some mediators routinely separate parties that are having difficulties talking to each other and are getting upset, other mediators prefer parties to remain in the same room if at all possible so that they can still hear each other, as they believe this is very powerful. The most important thing is to find a mediator that you feel comfortable working with. If you want to find a mediator local to you then you can use this Link

The most important thing to remember is that if you have recently separated mediation can be a helpful way of helping you find a resolution that focuses on the needs of your children. It can be a quicker way of resolving matters and that, in turn, often makes it cheaper than using other processes. It also helps to improve communication, and that’s hugely important where a couple will need to keep talking to each other about their children moving forwards.