The one about... Getting the most out of mediation

The government have recently announced a voucher scheme for couples who want to use mediation to resolve their family disputes. Tamsin speaks to mediator Maura McKibbin about how to make the most of your mediation sessions.

Maura is a specialist family mediator who dedicates her practice to keeping families out of court and who routinely integrates emotional and financial support into her mediation work. Maura seeks to ensure that separated couples have enough support to problem-solve so that they can find solutions together.

Maura’s legal training means that she has an appreciation of the legal issues that are relevant for separating couples to bear in mind as they carefully contemplate their financial separation alongside their legal advice. Maura helps to provide the structure and support for their conversations to take place.

A principal motivation in Maura’s work is to ensure that children have the best chance of good outcomes. She supports their parents to make parenting plans for family life beyond separation. Maura is trained to meet with children who wish to have a voice and she also runs local Parenting Apart Information Meetings which provide neutral, early information and guidance to help parents to parent together beyond their separation. Maura is a member of the Resolution Parenting after Parting Committee. In addition she writes and delivers training for other professionals who support families facing separation.

You can contact Tamsin at or on 07975 922766.

You can get in touch with Maura:

Mediator Ltd
My Buro
20 Market Street,
WA14 1PF
07515 809552


(The transcript has been created by an AI, apologies for any mistakes)

Tamsin Caine 0:06
Hello and welcome to the Smart divorce podcast. I'm Tamsin Caine and I will be your host. In series three, we will be speaking to a number of experts and professionals in the divorce arena, and answering the questions that we get asked most often. If you've got a question and you don't think we've answered it yet, please do get in touch, you can email me at Now over to our guests.

I really enjoyed talking to mediator Maura McKibbin today, she's got some really great advice for anybody who's considering mediation. So five tips for getting the most out of your mediation. I won't spoil it by telling you what those tips are. But they're incredibly useful and should help you to get into the process and make the best of it for you and your partner, well soon to be ex partner. So I will hand over and I really hope you enjoy today's conversation.

Hello, and I'm delighted to be joined today by Maura McKibben Maura is a fabulous family mediator based in Nottingham in Cheshire. Hi, Maura, how you doing?

Maura McKibbin 1:34
Hi, Tamsin, I am very well, indeed. Thank you in family mediation week as well.

Tamsin Caine 1:41
Indeed, although this will go out just after mediation week, so probably isn't by the time, by the time we get to it.

Maura McKibbin 1:52
It's always relevant to to sort of highlight all the different ways we can help families who are facing separation. So anytime it's good to talk about family mediation.

Tamsin Caine 2:03
Absolutely. No, I totally agree. It's one of the things that that I'm very keen on. So yeah, that's brilliant. So we're going to talk today about how to get the most out of mediation. And you've got some tips for us. So where are we going to start today Maura.

Maura McKibbin 2:26
I think I think we've got, I've got five, I think five top tips for people who are families who are going through mediation process couples who are going through a mediation process. The first one is investing in finding out about the process. So there are of course, lots of different options for how you sort stuff out when a family is reorganising life and mediation is only one of them. But but there are different ways. Of course, there's loads of material online to find out about mediation, you can have that you can book with a mediator to have what's called a Miam, or a mediation information meeting, and to talk through different options, including mediation. And, and also, we've just briefly discussed a bit before coming on air, there are things like now there is videos to help people to just see what you know, a scenario, were usually using actors to see what a mediation meeting might be like. So it is very valuable to take time to look at the different options and to explore them in detail with somebody who knows about them, and then matching up the scenario you have with those different process options to make sure you can find the best fit possible. So I think it is very definitely worth investing enough time to make sure you get into the process the best that you can find out as much as possible about it ahead

Tamsin Caine 4:05
I think that that's really good advice. Would you go and see a solicitor first even if you thought mediation was the right solution for you? Or can you go straight to a mediator and begin the process that way?

Maura McKibbin 4:17
You don't have to go and see a solicitor first. So there are lots of people now who are coming straight into mediation, and, and the mediator will be able to either help you to find they can give you names of a few solicitors that could help you or you can have a solicitor lined up by recommendation when you get a bit further down the line. So I think in terms of cost effectiveness, for lots of people actually come into mediation first, then axing legal advice. I think the most important thing about the legal advice piece and mediation is that you link up with a solicitor who is mediation friendly to use my term. And someone that understands what you're doing in mediation, really importantly, understands why it's important to to sort things out in a way that's good for your family and separation. And that can, can help you and advise you with that at the forefront. So, yeah, you don't have to get legal advice. First, it's best practice to have legal and financial advice as you're mediating, but you can fit them in when the time is right.

Tamsin Caine 5:32
Perfect. Fantastic. Okay. And tip number two.

Maura McKibbin 5:38
So tip number two is being emotionally ready for mediation. So becoming emotionally ready for mediation, it's not something you can suddenly just pull a wand out of a bag. And, you know, we've read and you will be emotionally ready. And and whether someone is emotionally ready for mediation depends on a lot of things, it depends on them, it depends on the circumstances of their separation, it depends on their separated partner. It depends upon importantly, where they are on their emotional recovery journey, because I think we all know that family separation touches every part of life and turns life very upside down for people and emotionally, it is phenomenally challenging to go through family separation. So for many people, and there's been a lot of research into what happens to us emotionally when separation occurs. And there is a very clear path that is a bereavement process, emotion may it's exactly the same steps as bereavement. And so if someone is in the very, very early stages of a separation, and they are in a stages of sort of extreme emotion, denial, extreme anger, those emotions could very well get in the way of being able to mediate. And it is possible, it is possible to get support and help to become emotionally ready for mediation. So I think either somebody might have gone have enough distance from their separation or be sufficiently emotionally recovered to be ready naturally. I think if you're not, and you're you can talk to your mediator about this. But if you don't feel you are if an emotion is still very overwhelming, and then it could make it very difficult for you, for instance, to sit in a room virtual or otherwise with your separated partner, and focus on planning for the future. So sometimes it's helpful to people if emotion isn't running very high not to sit in the same room together to sit separately, and that can help. But also and I think really importantly, it is it is very possible to link up with somebody that's therapeutic, he trained, or has a coaching training, that can really make a huge difference to people's ability to be emotionally ready for mediation and do some work with you. And to help you to process really challenging emotions so that when you get to mediation, you can be in the best place possible to be able to crunch all the detail of your life that needs reorganisation, whether it's parenting planning or financial separation. So I think emotional readiness for mediation, choosing your time to mediate getting support to help you to be there, that would be another of my tips, really.

Tamsin Caine 8:36
And that's that's an excellent point in the next tip. It's quite often the case where one person is emotionally ready and new, and the other one isn't. And perhaps the one who isn't emotionally ready is being pushed by the other to get the move on and get the process done and get started. What What would your comment be on that?

Maura McKibbin 9:00
I think if you if you're working with a mediator, so if you get into mediation, it's I think that scenario is is very common, more common than we might think, you know, I think in virtually every separation, there is one person because they've internally processed and emotion they started that internalisation of their emotion about separation much sooner. So for one person, they are quite a long way down the line potentially the other person is just getting to grips with a huge change a huge emotional change and separations just being communicated to them. So it's very natural for the person ahead to feel frustrated, aggravated impatient. I think it's very natural because they are ready to move on they are ready to tackle and getting things sorted out. And and by contrast, it's incredibly difficult for the person that's further back on the journey to be able to cope with day to day life, let alone think about whether they're going to be moving house or you know that they're going to need to find a job, whereas previously didn't have one or work more hours. I mean, they're just that there will always be a difference between the two. And I think from a from a mediation point of view it's part of a mediators role, to gently and appropriately help people with pacing challenges. I mean, there are pacing challenges for most people. So helping the person that's getting frustrated, and to be able to manage their expectations, so that they can have a better understanding of the fact that actually the other person is playing a huge catch up, and allowing the person that is really still struggling with high emotion, to appreciate that, what it feels like for the other person. So it's really difficult balance to get right. Sometimes it's, it's appropriate to delay starting mediation. So both people are very keen to mediate, but one person is feeling quite, you know, quite frustrated or impatient with the other because they feel that they're being slow about it. And it is, you know, one of the options is to say, Well, if it's, you have to work out, what's more important? Is it more important to work in mediation for your separated family and all of the benefits that that will bring to everyone? Or is it more important to do it right now. And people have to make choices around that I think sometimes. So, you know, if somebody feels they need to get on with it and do that. Now, if the other ones not ready, then mediation may not be an option. Although one other scenario people could consider would be Collaborative Law in those circumstances where you can add in extra layers of support by bringing them you don't need a mediator there, but you bring the solicitors into the process. And they have a much more emotionally supportive role in a collaborative setting. And they can that can really help with pacing challenges, I think, because they are they are they happen in virtually every case at some level or another?

Tamsin Caine 12:04
Yeah, yeah, that's, that's good advice. Okay, tip three

Maura McKibbin 12:11
Tip three, is being financially ready for mediation. So maybe we should flip roles here. And I should ask you how you do this, but because you'll have a lot of insight and expertise to add here. But being financially so for people who are tackling the reorganisation of their finances, and job one job, one in any financial separation process is to create a full and transparent picture of what a separating couple look like financially, and that there isn't a way around doing that. And that needs to happen in mediation, as it happens in every other financial separation process. So that looks different for different people. And and some people are very good and organised, finding a good organising themselves financially pre separation, that's been what they've been like. And for those people getting ready financially, doesn't feel like the biggest hill to climb. Although Having said that, to do that task, when emotion is really challenging, you can make it feel difficult, even if you are financially organised as a person. And, and for others that that task is overwhelmingly difficult, because then maybe not that organised naturally financially. And on top of that life's upside down. So how that works differs. And it can be hugely helpful for a financial professional to help people to do that job. Typically finances a bit more complicated. And, you know, it can be your your give your insight into this. But that can be a very useful way for people to be able to know what to do and when, and what information to gather together and around pensions, what on earth do you need to ask for? And how long is it going to take to arrive and all of this stuff so and solicitors help with it too. If they're involved at the early stages, they can have a part in helping us get ready financially. And also, they can have a role in digging into a bit of the forensics of checking out the information and making sure that all that it all adds together properly so that people can then be ready to start the problem solving bit. So the gathering together financial information is all about preparation. And once you've done that role, you can start to problem solve in mediation. So yeah, so I think that's probably what I mean by making sure you're financially ready to mediate but I am all ears Tamsin because I know you're here.

Tamsin Caine 14:57
Yeah, I'm in complete agreement. With everything you've said, I think, certainly there can be some frustration around the amount of time that it takes to gather this information up. And requesting valuations and information from pension providers can be slow, to put it mildly. pension providers quite often ignore the fact that you write divorce in the letter, and might send you completely the wrong information. And certainly, if you're working with government departments, such as the NHS pension, or the university's pension or local authority pension, quite often these are taking, I mean, it's six weeks normally, but at the current moment, while we're all struggling with working from home and COVID, and so on, it's certainly taking much longer than that. But yeah, I think it's really important to gather together your information, and also not to necessarily take everything as, as its dates on the form, he may have a valuation on the letter that comes to you, that's not necessarily the figure that's going to be used when you come to mediation. So again, it's important, I think, to, you know, if you have got any complexities, if you've got a number of pensions, and you don't really know what they mean, then you're taking some advice from a financial professional. So certainly a very valuable step. And and the same goes for creating a budget, you know, we're looking at, at what your future expenditure is going to look like. And if you've never done that before, and you're not the person who's paid bills before, and you you don't have that knowledge and experience of creating an expenditure budget, speak to somebody who can help you, I think, I think that's going to be really valuable, because that's a very important part of the jigsaw when you're looking at who needs what, from the agreement that you you end up with. So yeah, financially ready, certainly a big one.

Maura McKibbin 17:02
Yeah. And the budgeting piece, is there, there are two sides aren't there to the equation. One is what do we look like financially now? So how do we, how do we identify all our assets? And how do we value them or agree a value of them? And then that other bit as you reference, which is, how are we going to afford life going forward? So what's this going to be like, and of course, it's critical that whatever people do to reorganise life, and in mediation, they're going to be making choices about that, no one's going to tell them how to do it, that whatever you choose, as your financial solution is realistic, financially, we'll work on the maths, and we'll, we'll have endurance around it, ie it's going to work for for going forward, not just for the here and now. So that budgeting exercises, it is phenomenally challenging. And again, people fall into different categories, some people can do that always duck to water. And other people find that overwhelming or difficult or, and particularly things like COVID, you know, at a time when I think most people are spending a lot less because life is smaller, or people are more worried about finances, and trying to prepare a budget going forward, which isn't sort of COVID focus, which is about well, I know I'm not spending much now on that, but I will go on holiday one day, so I need to put something in my budget for that or so it is. And these these are tools to help people to make sure that what they are working out together and mediation has legs really has financial legs. So yeah, hugely important. And financial professionals can help with it. mediators can help with it solicitors can help with it. So as you've just got to work out what's going to be the best, the best fit, and but getting help making sure you're ready for that task and you've got the support, you need to do it.

Tamsin Caine 19:02
Fantastic. Tip for

Maura McKibbin 19:05
Tip four. So tip four is about investment in the process as it is going on. And because it is really, really important to keep your energy levels up for mediation the whole way through. So when I look at the people who tend to do better in mediation to cope better to get earlier mediation outcomes or easier mediation outcomes for them. I will say there's a there is well there's a correlation between those people and all of these points, but there's particular correlation. You know, people who say for instance, I will say to clients, if you want to make cost effective progress in mediations if you want to make good progress you want to do at the least cost. You need to be prepared, really prepared deliver on preparation for meetings. So a mediators going to be running the process, so organising it, making suggestions about what you need to do and where and helping you to create an action list and coming out of every mediation process usually would have some action points, it might be going off to get some financial advice and mortgage advice, it might be getting out their children's school timetable for the next 12 months and putting the dates together, whatever it is, and the people who really take that seriously, who really take those action points and do them and in a timely way, they will fare better in mediation. And actually, it's important to be realistic as well about the time taken to do things. So when you're, when you're setting your action plan with the mediator at the end of one meeting, anticipating your next meeting, you will be working out Okay, we've got five things that we need to do here. How long is that going to take alongside all the other life commitments that we've got, when should we meet again, when do we need to get the information into the mediator, and because they need time to look at it before the next meeting comes along. So these sorts of things are really critical to progress in mediation, and so that the energy levels for mediation need to stay high, and the investment levels need to stay high. And your mediator will help you with that. And they will help you join the dots with other professionals who will and can and do help as mediation progresses. But if one, one person does their crap, and the other person doesn't, that first person is going to lose faith in mediation and are like they're likely to drop out of mediation. And, and that that can happen with you know, that can and does happen in mediation, that that one person finds it easier or is has got more energy for doing the prep work, or, you know, I think sometimes it's you know, might be in different emotional places for one person, it feels easier to sit down and get all your bank statements out and sort them all out and scan them across. And for the other person that feels completely overwhelming. So that can go back to my point of get help get emotional support in place, get a financial professional to help you if the task feels overwhelming. Ask a mediator, what you can do if you're struggling, you know, just say I'm finding this really difficult, what would you suggest so reaching out for help, but really being committed, not just at the beginning of mediation, but keeping those commitment levels high throughout the process, I think is probably my one of you know, like my my penultimate tip.

Tamsin Caine 22:45
That's a good tip. I like that Do your homework on time.

Maura McKibbin 22:51
I do say to people look, you know, I part of my job is to manage this process. And sometimes that makes me sound a bit bossy. But the reality is that the responsibility for this process and you getting outcomes is going to fall with you, you know, I'm here to help you. But I'm not here to do it for you. So I need you know, we're a team here. And we all need to play our part. And I can tell you what your part should be. And I can set it all out for you. And we can set joint goals and we can but if you don't do it, the risk is you're not going to get an outcome in mediation, and then you're going to feel like you've wasted money. And you know, nobody wants people to waste money on any professional services, particularly when money, you know, can feel really tight. And there's a lot of financial pressure for people. So and sometimes it's a sometimes it is an emotional block that's causing people to struggle with staying invested at the right level in the process. But there are things that you can do about that. So reach out for help if that's happening. Yeah, definitely. And the final tip number five, my final tip is a bit of an overarching tip. And it comes back to who is the team that helps you when you're reorganising my foster separations. So this is really a tip about making sure that you have got your assembly due at the beginning, you get your team in place, and you need to keep your team in place throughout. So your financial advisor, for instance, might help you at the beginning, when you're getting financially ready for mediation, they might help you with that to help me to access some mortgage advice a bit later on. They might help you to look at your budgeting exercise, they might help you both to sit down with your budgets if they frankly, we exceed your income and help us to do work through what you do about that which which can happen. And so making sure you've got that help dripped in and you access it when you need to similarly with your legal advice. It's also really important because the mediator can never give legal advice. They can just talk about the law but not advice on it. So making sure that you do get back just listed today we're talking about this in mediation, anything I should know, can you flag anything up for me here? So the way I joined the dots with the legal advice is by generating a summary. It's a without prejudice summaries. It's just summary of what the discussions have been in the mediation meeting, in order to buy then ask the clients do mediation, plants, share that with your lawyers after the session once you've got it. So they know what you've talked about in mediation, they know where to feed, feed in their legal advice, they're not going to be surprised. At the end, when you curse them and say, Well, we've reached an agreement and it's, we want to do this, they're not going to start trying to deliver new legal advice at the 11th hour, they will have done it as you're going along. Similarly, for your Financial Peace, you know, your when you when you anticipating that you want to pension share, your financial advisor will have tackled all the relevant questions way before you get to the point, you know, of say, somebody is not going to come up at the 11th hour and say, oh, but actually, we've got a really big pension sharing charge here. And that probably means we shouldn't do this or we shouldn't. So things that Yeah, there won't be the unexpected if you keep those professionals in the loop. And, you know, you need different people at different times. And it's a blend of advice and support and help and getting that blend in the right. In the right proportions is really important. And you know, the professionals around you will help you with that piece. But I think that's, you know, your your support team stay with you. And it's important to keep you know, to keep them on board and get advice at the right point. Yeah, that's really it's an overarching tip. I suppose that's my my fifth tip.

Tamsin Caine 26:44
Yeah, absolutely. And I think when any of us suggest bringing somebody else in, there's always that, Oh, is this gonna cost more, but in the long run, if you can get things done properly, up front with the right advice, in the long run, I think genuinely, it will save you money and and save you all the other costs that could come from not getting things right on day one.

Maura McKibbin 27:12
Yeah, absolutely. Right. And I think, you know, at least in a process of problem solving process, like mediation, the mediating parties remain far more in control of the costs. So Nothing happens without their say so without their consent to it without their investment in it, they will know ahead what things are going to cost. So I think generally, my feedback from clients in mediation versus clients in litigation is that they feel much more in control and in charge of costs, they worry less about cost running away with them, which is a worry, I think, for litigation quite often that they're not in charge of it, not in control of it. So yes, but I think it does cost money to separate, you know, view when you access professional support. But as you say, I think it's it's better to acknowledge actually, yep, we do need to, there is a spend here that we're going to need to make, but actually that's going to help us to be in a much better place in the long run. So you know, it is investment now for benefit later. Really

Tamsin Caine 28:17
fantastic. That's brilliant, some great advice. Thank you for joining me today Maura. And hopefully we'll see you soon!

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