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Family mediators offer an independent, confidential service to help families resolve disputes.
A large part of their work is with couples who have decided to divorce or separate. The mediator helps them work through any disagreements on issues such as finance and future arrangements for their children.
The job may involve:
- meeting each partner individually to see if the couple is suitable for mediation
- explaining how mediation works
- meeting the couple together, to identify issues that need to be resolved
- obtaining financial information from both sides
- arranging further sessions as needed to make progress
- drafting proposed agreements for the couple to consider
- sometimes consulting the children of the family directly about their views
- helping clients identify when they may need legal or other advice.
Mediators must not take sides or tell clients what to do, but help them work through their disputes. They may have to deal with clients who are upset or angry with each other.
The work is office based. Working hours vary, but some weekend or evening work may be needed. It is common for mediators to work part time.
Salaries start from around £25,000 and may rise to £35,000.
Family mediators need to be:
- good listeners and communicators
- able to relate to people of all backgrounds
- fair and unbiased
- able to handle emotional outbursts
- well organised
- good with numbers and financial issues
- clear writers
- patient and able to concentrate
- able to observe confidentiality.
Mediators are employed by charitable organisations, private mediation practices and solicitors' practices.
They need to have either a degree or an HND, or at least five years' experience in a related field such as counselling or law. Employers look for strong interpersonal skills. Voluntary work in a community mediation service, child contact centre or similar setting is helpful.
There are several training providers. Entrants wanting to carry out publicly funded work need to train under a professional body recognised by the Family Mediation Council.
Initial training takes six to ten days. Mediators must then complete supervised practice, which can take 18 months to two years.
Experienced family mediators may set up their own practices, become trainers, or move into related fields such as workplace mediation.
What is the work like?
A family mediator works with families to resolve disputes. A large part of their work is with couples who have made the decision to separate. The role involves helping them work through any conflict and reach agreements about their family's future. In this way, mediators may help couples avoid having to go to court.
Issues that a mediator may help to resolve include:
- who will care for the children in the family after a divorce
- what contact the other parent will have with the children
- arrangements for dividing finances and assets such as the family home
- maintenance payments for the children's upbringing.
Some mediators also get involved in other family issues, such as conflict between a parent and teenager, or family arguments about how to divide the estate of someone who has died.
The service is confidential and impartial. It is not the mediator's job to take sides, or to advise either party what to do. Instead, the mediator supports families to work through their disagreements in a safe environment, and to reach agreements that seem fair to all involved.
Families are usually referred to a mediator by a solicitor. The mediation process is a voluntary one.
A mediator may:
- carry out an initial 'screening' interview with each partner individually, to assess whether their case is suitable for mediation
- explain to them how mediation works
- meet with the couple together, to help identify and discuss the issues that need to be resolved
- obtain detailed financial information from both sides
- arrange further meetings as necessary to advance the discussions
- take notes and draft proposed agreements for the couple to consider
- help people identify when legal or other advice is needed.
Meetings generally last one to two hours. Most mediations take three to six sessions to come to a conclusion. Complex cases may take longer.
Where children are involved, mediators ensure that their welfare is a priority in any negotiations. A mediator may discuss with the couple how they might talk to their children about any arrangements that are reached. Some mediators are specially trained in consulting with children directly for their views.
Mediators often have to deal with people who may be upset and angry with each other.
Some cases involve domestic abuse issues. If a mediator believes that anyone in the family is in need of court protection, or that mediation is unlikely to work, he or she will stop the process and advise the client to seek legal advice.
The agreements reached in mediation are not legally binding. Where required, a lawyer converts them into a legal document.
Hours and environment
Working hours are varied. Mediators may have to do some work in the evenings or at weekends, depending when clients are available.
Part-time and flexible working is common in this field. Some mediators combine the role with work in related fields, such as family law or workplace mediation.
Mediators are office based and work in various settings, including solicitors' premises, voluntary organisations or private practice.
Salary and other benefits
These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.
- Salaries for full-time family mediators start from around £25,000 per year.
- With experience, earnings may rise to around £30,000.
- Mediators with management or training responsibilities may earn £35,000.
Skills and personal qualities
A family mediator must have:
- excellent listening and communication skills
- the ability to relate to people of all kinds
- a fair and unbiased approach
- resilience and confidence, to cope with emotional outbursts
- organisational skills
- a strong grasp of numbers and financial issues
- excellent writing skills
- a sensitive but assertive style
- a respectful and non-judgmental attitude
- good concentration
- an appreciation of the need for confidentiality.
It is important to:
- have an interest in family law
- be interested in people and family dynamics
- be comfortable working in a way that enables people to make their own decisions, rather than giving advice.
The main employers are charitable organisations, private mediation firms and solicitors' practices.
Family mediation is a growing field. It is encouraged by the government as a way for families to avoid costly and time-consuming court action.
Vacancies may be found on employers' websites and in national and local press. Lead organisations in this field also pass on enquiries from potential clients to their members.
Mediators need to have either a degree or an HND, or at least five years' experience in a similar field. Many mediators enter from roles such as counselling, social work or legal work, though this is not essential.
Degrees and HNDs may be in any subject. Related subjects, such as law or social work, may be useful.
Degree course entry requirements vary, depending on topic and the institution. However, candidates usually need at least two A levels and five GCSEs (A*-C), including maths and English, or equivalent qualifications. For an HND, minimum entry requirements are usually one A level and three GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent.
Employers look for strong interpersonal skills as well as some kind of relevant work experience. Voluntary work - for instance in a family centre, child contact centre or community mediation service - may improve prospects.
The Family Mediation Council and the Law Society run portfolio-based competency schemes for mediators who have completed basic training. Completing this portfolio is compulsory for any mediator who wishes to work with clients claiming legal aid.
It may be possible to join a mediation service which will fund training. Other entrants fund their own mediation training and then seek a placement with a mediation service to gain practical experience.
Several providers run training for family mediators. Those wanting to carry out publicly funded work must train under, and gain membership of, a professional body recognised by the Family Mediation Council (FMC). Recognised organisations are listed on the FMC website.
Foundation training generally takes six to ten days, often spread over several weeks. Topics include:
- the principles of mediation
- mediation processes and skills
- how to assess suitability for mediation
- domestic abuse and child protection issues
- understanding family law
- culture, gender and disability issues
- mediating children's issues
- mediating financial issues
- preparing final documents.
After training, entrants must complete a set period of supervised practice. It can take 18 months to two years to complete the training and become a recognised mediator.
Family mediators are expected to carry out at least ten hours of continuing professional development (CPD) each year, and to keep up with relevant legislation. Member bodies of the FMC run short courses and events.
The College of Mediators offers Associate membership to students and those wishing to pursue a career in the field.
Experienced family mediators may set up their own mediation practice or become trainers or supervisors of other mediators.
They may move into other fields, such as workplace mediation or management consultancy.
College of Mediators, 3rd Floor, Alexander House, Telephone Avenue, Bristol BS1 4BS. 0845 658 5258. Website: www.collegeofmediators.co.uk
Family Mediation Council (FMC), PO Box 593, Exeter EH1 9HG. Website: www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk
Family Mediators Association (FMA), Grove House, Grove Road, Bristol BS6 6UN. 0117 946 7181. Website: www.thefma.co.uk
The Law Society, 113 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1PL. 020 7242 1222. Website: www.lawsociety.org.uk
National Family Mediation, Margaret Jackson Centre, 4 Barnfield Hill, Exeter EX1 1SR. 01392 271610. Website: www.nfm.org.uk
Resolution, PO Box 302, Orpington, Kent BR6 8QX. 01689 820272. Website: www.resolution.org.uk
Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.