Family Mediators versus Family Lawyers

Image of a lawyer and a man in discussion.

So, who do you turn to when you have a dispute or disagreement over divorce finances or child matters? Do you plum for a solicitor or a mediator or both? Well, the answer to that question is not necessarily that straight forward. Both have their place. Let’s consider the processes for each.


The Family Lawyer

A family lawyer is a very well-trained professional who knows the law relating to families, for that, there is no question. Unlike family mediators though, they take sides. Once you engage a lawyer, they begin working for your sole interests (and the interests of your children). The way the two professionals differ is fundamental.

A family mediator is and will remain impartial to you and your ex-partner right throughout the whole process whereas, a lawyer will take your side and do their best to achieve the best outcomes, but they will not put guarantees to their claims.

Once you decide to engage a solicitor, you may have to wait a few days for an appointment and it will be scheduled during normal office hours, normally between 9.00am and 4.00pm. You may receive a free 30 minutes consultation, but the advice you receive will be very general and not necessarily specific to your circumstances. If you agree to them representing you, then the clock starts ticking.

After you engage them, they will generally want a retainer, normally a few hundred pounds, and thereafter, every time you speak with them, or they send a letter on your behalf, drop you an email or complete a form, you will be charged accordingly.  Your retainer then begins to ebb away. It is likely after a while, your solicitor will contact you again to top-up your account, as they much prefer to take their fees in advance.


The Typical Process with a Lawyer

The typical process if you engage a solicitor is that they will hold a formal consultation with you to understand the situation you are in and will then advise what options are available and what outcomes in your favour they may be able to secure. Your one-hour consultation will likely cost at least £250 or a lot more, depending on the size and reputation of the law firm they work for. After your first consultation, your lawyer will likely send your ex-partner a letter detailing what you expect from the matter. The letter will probably cost from. About £120.

Any responses from your ex-partner or their lawyer will be passed on to and you will have another consultation with your solicitor, often by telephone. They may then charge you for receiving and passing on any correspondence and of course for any further advice they may offer.

Next, a second letter may be sent. It is unlikely that your ex-partner, especially if they have engaged their own solicitor, will accept the demands from your solicitor, so they will likely counter your proposal. When neither you nor your ex-partner accepts the other’s proposals, it can begin to get very expensive. Letter tennis can go on and on and often without resolution until either, you decide, on advice to take the matter to court or your solicitor suggests seeking mediation.

By going to court, you are asking a judge or magistrate to rule in your favour. Your solicitor will either represent you or suggest engaging a barrister. This will depend upon the type of case and its complexities. However, before your solicitor can make an application, you will have to attempt to resolve the matter using family mediation. So, even by going to a solicitor, you may end up having to engage a family mediator.


The Family Mediator

All family mediators have to undergo training and ongoing professional development. Many mediators come from a background in law whilst others come with a wealth of worldly experience and wisdom. If you choose the right family mediator, the process of trying to reach an agreement can take a few short weeks, be less stressful and cost a fraction of that of a solicitor.


The Typical Process with a Mediator

First thing first, most family mediators charge fixed fees and on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis. So straight away there are no costly upfront fees to stump up. You will need to attend a MIAM (Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting) which normally lasts up to an hour. The cost of this is often at least 60% cheaper.

After your MIAM, they will do all the correspondence, sending letters and emails to your ex-partner and back to yourself and you will be pleased to know that this is included in the basic fees you have already paid. They invite your ex-partner to mediate and in turn, this means they won’t need to engage a lawyer either. They will pay exactly the same as you for their MIAM.

Once both MIAMs are complete, your family mediator will then co-ordinate and schedule a joint mediation meeting between you and your ex-partner and again, there will be no unexpected bills as it is an all-inclusive service. Once scheduled, you will be advised of the fee you will be expected to pay either on the day of your mediation meeting or shortly after.

If the mediation is successful, then you may want your family mediator to draw-up a Memorandum of Understanding, which is a summary of everything you have both agreed. Again, the cost for this will be explained during your meeting and often costs less than £100 each.  Obviously, if you cannot agree, then you may have to consider asking the courts to decide, and to do this you will have to have attempted mediation first, otherwise the courts will not even consider your application.


Comparing the Costs of a Mediator and a Solicitor

Let’s assume a solicitor charges £250 per hour and a family mediator charges £100. The table below tots-up the possible costs.


Family MediatorFees eachFamily LawyerFees each
Initial consultation / MIAM£100Initial consultation£250
Letters & correspondence 



Letters & correspondence assuming 3 letters and responses 



Mediation meeting assuming 2 meetings 


Refer to mediation 


Preparation of documents£60Preparation of documents
Total Cost£460Total Cost Including mediation costs£1,160


The Conclusion

So, as you can see from the table above, a solicitor may cost you around £700 but still have to refer you to a family mediator (solicitors cannot sign-off court forms) which then will cost an additional £460. The whole process by starting out with a solicitor could cost over a thousand pounds and still result in you having to go to mediation. Had you started by going to see a family mediator, you will have saved at least £700.

If it was solely down to cost, it is obvious that a family mediator is by far the most cost-effective, and whilst cost is a major factor, it is the disagreement or conflict which is of paramount importance. Legal representatives are by nature, adversarial which means they are fighting your corner whereas, family mediators are impartial, and they do not take sides. They want you both to reach a fair and long-lasting resolution and wherever possible, reduce the need for you to go to court.

One of the fundamental factors between a family lawyer and family mediator is that the latter is not there to offer advice, a solicitor can and will. Family mediators will often recommend their clients consult with a solicitor if there are complex legal matters involved. However, for the vast majority of family matters, that relate to children, it is less about the law and more about inclusiveness for each parent in raising their children. The law is quite simple in this regard as it believes both parents should be actively and equally involved in the upbringing of a child. That is not to say that one parent may be or need to be the primary carer, this does not take away any decision making or rights of the other parent.

In conclusion, both professionals play an important role when it comes to family matters but if you want a quick, private, and less stressful and far cheaper method for attempting to resolve any difference you and your ex-partner may have, then family mediation should be the first thing to consider.

Solicitors will charge their normal hourly fee plus expenses to accompany you to court. They may have to attend court for several hours and therefore you can work out for yourself how expensive it begins to get. If they suggest a barrister represents you, then you could double the cost. Of course, once your matter is before the court, it may take several court dates to settle the matter. For this you can expect to pay several thousand pounds and still have no guarantee they will find in your favour and of course it can drag on for months. So, let’s consider the family mediator approach.


Contact Us for Online Mediation Services

For more information about the Family Mediation & Counselling Service and our online family mediation appointments, please get in touch with us on 0330 113 0005 or you can send us an email at enquiry@fmacs.co.uk.

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