BBC documentary reveals the complex nature of family mediation

30th June 2016

Episode 1 of Mr v Mrs: Call the Mediator (9pm, Tuesday 21st), BBC2's fly on the wall documentary series gave a raw and unique insight into the private world of family mediation and the opportunity it provides to battle weary, separating couples to take control of their family arrangements whether they be issues related to children or financial matters.

This was a warts and all account of the traumatic aftermath of separation. Whilst at times this was distressing to watch, anyone who has been through a painful separation would probably agree that the weariness of the participants was an accurate reflection of the mixed emotions often felt by individuals going through this process... fear, impatience, resentment, shock, betrayal, loss of control, anger, insecurity... the list goes on. 

We followed Sue and Peter who were divorcing but could not agree how their money should be split after Sue left the family home for another relationship; Martin and Nicky who couldn't agree the arrangements for their two sons; and Jason and Vicky who were finding it difficult to adopt a shared care arrangement for their daughter and hadn't spoken a word to each other for six months - indeed they had decided they could not sit in a room together, resulting in the mediator having to "shuttle" between them.

It was clear to see that mediation is not a quick fix solution. It does not repair relationships, it is simply a platform, an opportunity for an open dialogue overseen by an impartial referee who can steer the discussions in the right direction and help parties overcome any impasse that is preventing them from concluding matters. 

In the programme, the process didn't result in an agreed outcome for Jason and Vicky who asked the court to intervene to resolve matters and we left Martin and Nicky continuing to talk to try and resolve matters.  However it is important that neither of these should be seen as failure or flaw in the mediation process. 

Mediation is not suitable for everyone. At the outset of any divorce, separation or dissolution it is vitally important that individuals are provided with expert advice as to what processes, options and professional support is available to them. The process which best suits the individuals concerned will usually depend on their aims and objectives and hopes and concerns. 

Many people find alternative processes to court to be a significantly more positive experience which allows them greater control over the process of a whole. This is something we recognise at Higgs & Sons where we are able to explore a vast array of constructive forums to support the best interests of individuals and their children.

Our mediation service provides an opportunity for parties to discuss their problems together privately with an impartial, creative mediator who is also a qualified lawyer.  Mediation takes the issues away from the legal arena and allows couples to find ways of building bridges in a less stressful way than litigation. If agreements are reached through mediation there is always the option to make them binding via a court order.

We also offer a Collaborative Law service which is an alternative to mediation that provides couples with another way of resolving issues without the need for court proceedings. The parties enter into a series of face to face meetings with their collaborative lawyers as opposed to communicating through letters and e-mails. They will sign an agreement setting out various principles about how they wish to resolve things and are able to set their own agenda and focus on those issues that are most important to them at the time of the meeting.

We are also able to facilitate arbitration, which is another alternative to court based litigation. This process is designed for couples who require finality but without the rigidity of the court process. A decision would be imposed by a chosen Arbitrator rather than by a judge. This is an attractive process for clients who wish to preserve privacy and control over the process.

Although it may be necessary to go to court, it is rarely in a family's interest to have its private conflicts dragged into the public arena. We will therefore do all we can to resolve disputes via alternative routes such as mediation, collaborative law and arbitration in order to reach a satisfactory outcome while maintaining discretion and confidentiality.

As we saw in Mr v Mrs, no two situations are the same and there should be a range of options available to couples in order to try and find a way through the complex aftermath of a relationship breakdown.

We await episode two with bated breath.


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