Hybrid mediation is a new method of dispute resolution (DR) and has a number of potential benefits over the ‘traditional’ family mediation model. Hybrid mediation is faster and the lawyer is able to better support the client through the process than in the traditional family law model of mediation. However, as with all DR processes, it’s important that you select the most appropriate one for your personal circumstances.
We have put together a case-study below that shows the process of hybrid mediation, so that you can understand how the method works and if it might be the right for you.
Zara and Christian were a high conflict married couple who had already been separated for over a year when they instructed their lawyers. Christian was a high earning professional working in the city and Zara had previously stopped training as a solicitor to care for their two children aged 9 and 11 but had recently started studying again with a view to resurrecting her career. Christian had moved into rented accommodation and Zara had remained living in the family home with the children. From Zara’s perspective their relationship had been volatile and she felt she had been subjected to emotional abuse over a number of years and that since their separation Christian was being very difficult about money. Christian recognised the volatility in their relationship and felt that since they had separated Zara had been very controlling over the time the children spent with him. They both felt an element of ‘power imbalance’ but for different reasons.
Zara and Christian’s initial priority was to agree the arrangements for the children. They both felt that their children were suffering due to the ad hoc arrangements and lack of routine. However, they both had very different ideas as to what was right for their children and as such their positions were becoming more and more entrenched and they were simply unable to acknowledge each other’s genuine fears and concerns.
Zara had initially been reluctant to engage in mediation with Christian as she was worried she wouldn’t be able to have a voice in the mediation sessions due to Christian’s dominant personality. She was worried about being in the same room as Christian and how the dynamic between them would play out.
Their respective lawyers, who were both committed resolution focussed, discussed with Zara and Christian, the options available to them. Everyone was keen to avoid litigation and recognised that it was not in the children’s best interests to become involved in court proceedings. Given Zara’s particular concerns about mediation it was agreed that Zara, Christian and their respective lawyers would engage with the hybrid mediation model. The idea being that both Zara and Christian would have the support of their lawyers during the sessions and as such would be able to get immediate advice as and when it was needed and could also be in separate rooms if necessary.
Zara and Christian also wanted to resolve their financial issues which had been rumbling along for some time, again unresolved. It was hoped that if they could resolve their differences in respect of the children it would pave the way for constructive negotiations regarding money.
With the help and support of the mediator it was agreed that two sessions would be booked initially – one to discuss the arrangements for the children and one to discuss the financial issues.
At the first session Zara and Christian initially remained in separate rooms (with their lawyers) and the mediator shuttled between them. It became clear that it was far easier for Zara and Christian to articulate their concerns to the mediator, through their lawyers where necessary, than if their lawyers had been ‘negotiating’ through correspondence or if there had been court proceedings. Being in separate rooms to start with also helped as they both felt safe and uninhibited. The mediator was able to listen and convey their wishes and proposals to the other and was able to narrow the issues between them to the point that Zara and Christian felt able to come together in one room (again with the lawyers and the mediator) to further their discussions.
During the discussions it became clear that Zara and Christian needed to regain trust and respect for each other as parents. It was important to Christian that the children spent exactly equal time between him and Zara and that Zara was not forthcoming with information about the children such as health and education issues. Zara felt Christian’s proposals were too rigid and unrealistic in light of Christian’s job and that an equal division of time would end up with Christian letting the children down. She felt strongly that she had always looked after the children and didn’t see why that needed to change. As the session progressed, they were both able to provide reassurances and commitments to the other which ensured the children were prioritised at all times.
A schedule was agreed, taking into account Christian’s working pattern and Zara’s need to study as well as the children’s schooling, routines and needs. They were able to agree a regular and reliable plan but which could be flexible where necessary. Christian recognised that his proposed 50/50 schedule was ambitious and Zara acknowledged that it was important that Christian played a greater role in the children’s lives and wasn’t just seen as a ‘fun dad’. There were clear agreements about keeping each other informed of any difficulties with timings and where either might need to change the arrangement for any reason. It was agreed that the arrangements would be reviewed again in 6 weeks’ time to see how it was working and more importantly how the children were coping with it.
Following the session Zara and Christian were able to communicate directly with each other and went on to agree arrangements for the school holidays, Christmas/birthdays and how they would support each other and the children with regard to schooling and any health issues.
Zara and Christian shared a strong desire to cause the least disruption to the children as possible. They both agreed it was important that they were able to feel safe and secure and for there to be an easy transition between their two homes. Zara’s priority was to remain living in the family home and be able to continue with her studies free from any pressure to get a job immediately. Christian was worried about a huge financial burden being placed upon him and that Zara should get a job and stand on her own two feet. Christian felt he had worked extremely hard to ensure that the family had been provided for but now that they were separating, he felt such significant support should come to an end.
The second session was committed to dealing with the financial issues and from the start Zara and Christian felt comfortable with being in the same room as each other.
Zara and Christian had already exchanged financial disclosure through their solicitors some weeks before and this had been provided to the mediator beforehand. The mediator produced a financial summary and with the help of the lawyers the mediator was able to clarify the issues which needed resolving.
The mediator spent some time going through the further information that Zara and Christian needed to provide with a focus on their respective housing needs, potential mortgage and earning capacities. It was agreed that they would each research the cost of suitable houses for each of them as well the mortgage they could each afford to take out for further discussion at the next session.
At the third session, having gathered all the information the mediator was able to explore different options and scenarios with Zara and Christian. They both spoke to their lawyers in separate breakout rooms so that they could get advice on the options and to see if any compromises could be made. With direct input from their lawyers and support from the mediator they were both able to put forward settlement proposals for the other to consider and to have a good understanding of the legal framework that would surround any settlement.
The individual confidential meetings enabled Zara and Christian to discuss things with their respective lawyers and the meditator without committing to anything or raising the expectations of the other. The lawyers’ input included giving their views of the outcome that could be expected if Zara and Christian were in the court process.
During the separate confidential meetings the mediator was able to get a feel for the issues that were capable of settlement and those that needed more compromise by both Zara and Christian. The mediator skilfully and sympathetically worked with Zara and Christian so that they were able to view things from each other’s perspective.
Zara and Christian were able to reach an agreement which surprised both of them. They were both expecting it to be much harder and more combative. They were able to agree a plan that enabled Zara to remain in the family home until their youngest child reached the age of 18 at which point the family home would be sold and the sale proceeds divided between them. It was agreed that Zara would receive a slightly higher percentage of the sale proceeds in recognition of the fact that Zara’s earning capacity was less than Christian’s. Until then Christian was happy to reside in rented accommodation and would continue to pay child maintenance for the benefit of their children. He would also pay spousal maintenance to Zara until she was able to finish her studies and continue her career as a solicitor to the point of being financially independent.
Session 3 was long and tiring but Zara and Christian both expressed a relief that they had resolved the thorny financial issues and were now able to move forward to the next chapter of the lives. The lawyers were able to immediately prepare the necessary paperwork incorporating the agreement reached, which was then approved by the family court as being legally binding.
Our team of experts are highly experienced in family mediation, including hybrid mediation. We regularly advise clients on how mediation can be used as an effective way of resolving family law issues, including arrangements for children. Please get in touch for a discussion about your personal circumstances.