Ali Carter is the Director of Mediate UK which was set up in August 2010. The business is a success story having grown from a small home-based start-up, to a company that covers the South East of England. – They have now also expanded into the Midlands and North West.
Mediate UK are also specialists in online mediation – allowing them to help clients nationally in England & Wales.
We wanted to know more about the business and how mediation can work for some couples to divorce both more cost effectively and amicably.
So Ali, how did you get into mediation?
I was a police officer for 10 years. Most of those years were spent on the sexual offences unit, where I was a single point of contact for victims of serious sexual assault. I was one of a few officers trained to take statements from very young and disabled children of sexual assault. It was harrowing work but massively rewarding and it taught me how to talk to people under immense stress, but more importantly – how to listen.
When I finished this work I went on a safer neighbourhood team and saw how mediation rather than enforcement can help with ongoing relationships in community and neighbour disputes. I wanted to set up my own business and mediation seemed a good fit, so I took a diploma in mediation and set up my own business.
Tell us more about Mediate UK and why you founded the business?
Mediate UK helps people who are going through a divorce or separation resolve the parenting, financial and property issues of that divorce or separation. We also help prioritise any children of the relationship. We’ve developed a system of family mediation that focuses on getting results for our clients – and 90% of clients who go on to joint mediation are able to reach an agreement through us.
I founded the business following my own difficult divorce and knew there must be a better way to help couples move on with their lives.
I heard that mediation was about to become compulsory to consider before going to court, so thought it would be a good time to start a mediation service!
You say that you are the UK’s top-rated mediation service?
Yes. It’s something we are immensely proud of. At the time of writing we have 216 5* Reviews from our clients.
And we celebrate each positive review with our team. I monitor and share our reviews with the team members and our mediators on our WhatsApp group. It is testament to the fantastic team we have assembled – all intent on helping our clients reach agreement.
Another reason clients love our service is we are a one-stop-shop for everything for their divorce or separation. We can make any agreement legally binding with our fixed fee legal packages and also help with pensions transfer, wills, mortgages and legal advice.
Why would you recommend a couple mediate rather than going to a solicitor?
Just this week we completed a case for a client who had initially spent £3,000 in solicitor fees and got absolutely nowhere. Their ex was just not participating in the process. They did a MIAM with us and we wrote to their ex to invite them to mediation. Our approach is neutral, more amicable and less scary than receiving a solicitor letter.
They got back in touch as we helped them reach an agreement. They then used us to process a legally binding consent order. The whole package cost them just under £1,000 each, was completed within a 6-week period and kept matters more amicable. The only issue is that one of them had £3,000 less in their pocket by going to a solicitor first.
Some situations are just not suitable for mediation and we recommend all our clients take independent legal advice, but in most cases attempting mediation as an initial route, if you can’t agree matters between yourselves, may well keep a lot more money in the family pot.
What happens when one partner wants to mediate and the other doesn’t?
One of the five principals of mediation is that it is voluntary. You cannot reach a good agreement if one of the participants simply doesn’t want to be in the room. At Mediate UK we write to the other party and give them two weeks to respond. If they don’t we send a final letter letting them know that we can release a form to go to court on the matter if they don’t get in touch.
If they don’t want to attend mediation, it is likely that the matter will go to court and the judge will usually want to see why mediation did not take place. If they believe that mediation is suitable they can adjourn the hearing for a few months whilst it is attempted.
We cannot force someone to attend mediation, but often when people fully understand what it is and the process that is involved, along with the advantages, then they are more likely to want to give it a try. Why would you want someone who doesn’t know your children to tell you where and when they can see you?
Can you think of an example of where you have been able to turn things around?
Many people think there is no point entering mediation if they cannot agree beforehand. But this is the very point of the mediation process. All we ask is clients come with a positive attitude to try to resolve the situation. It works best when clients start with a blank piece of paper and an open mind, looking to solve a problem.
One couple I remember well had spent over £100,000 on legal fees between them.
They had two adopted daughters and were unable to agree the child arrangements. They were now having to drop their children off at the end of the road and force them to walk 100 yards to the house, because they could not bear to see each other. Their relationship had turned so toxic, and they had exhausted their entire savings making arguments and counter arguments at court.
We worked with them both and they 8 joint mediation sessions – far more than most clients need – but we got them to an agreement. We put in place a stepping-stone approach where they would try something simple, such as dropping the children off at the front door, instead of up the road, and when they managed to do this, it started to build up the goodwill between them. We always look to set up a parenting plan and ongoing relationship that means, in the nicest possible way, the clients don’t ever need to use us again!
Do you ever have couples who are really at war? Can mediation ever work?
Yes. We have helped clients reach agreements where one of the parties was on bail for firing a shot gun at his ex-partner!
In some cases either the mediator or client may want to do shuttle mediation, where they are in separate rooms. And now that people are more used to video calls online, clients are finding it easier to mediate online from their homes or offices. So they don’t even have to be in the same building.
There are actually very few situations where mediation is not suitable, it just takes both parties to want to give it a go.
Do children ever get involved in mediation meetings? Or other family members?
Yes child inclusive mediation, where the voice of the child is heard in the process, can be a really effective and important part of reaching a parenting plan. Both parents need to agree to this and it is usually only suitable when the child is over 10 years old (depending on the emotional maturity of the child). Child inclusive mediation can only be held with a mediator who is specially trained in the process.
Many parents find it really helpful to have the opportunity for their child to speak to someone independent about their thoughts, hopes and concerns about the separation or divorce. This is then fed back to the parents, with the child’s permission and helps the parents – not the child – make the final decision on what the arrangements will be.
We can also help mediate with grandparents on access to their grandchildren.
What’s the oddest scenario you have ever had in mediation?
Goodness, we have had a few! We recognise that we are dealing with people going through a difficult time and we are always sensitive to that. We have had to close down a mediation session held at 9am in the morning because the bottle of water the wife was drinking was in fact neat vodka and she was a dribbling mess after 30 minutes. Or the client who asked to pause an online session so he could roll up and smoke a joint. The one that I will always remember is the husband who did not want to get divorced and half-way through the joint mediation meeting took of his jumper to reveal a T-shirt, saying “I love my wife.” Unfortunately it didn’t work to save their marriage, but I thought it was a good try!
Does mediation sometimes just not work? What do you do if this happens?
Yes unfortunately some people cannot reach an agreement. When this happens we can provide an outcome statement that shows what has been agreed and what is still outstanding. This can help keep subsequent legal fees low by reducing the scope of issues to be finalised.
Where agreement is not reached, we usually suggest the clients consider an independent barrister review. Mediate UK set these up as we didn’t like just sending clients off to court and wanted to offer an alternative. We send a report to the barrister on what the issues are, what the clients would like and a full financial disclosure. The barrister writes back on what the law is, how it applies in the clients’ situation and, if they went to court, what would be a likely outcome. We are one of a handful of small businesses who hold a license to directly instruct a barrister and they are amazingly helpful in helping clients stay out of court and control their legal fees.
Can someone have a chat with your team before committing?
Yes, absolutely. Our office team can answer most mediation related questions and if you need further help on any aspect of divorce, separation or parenting, we offer a free 30-minute consultation. They can be booked in online through our website. We also have a blog on our website that is updated weekly and holds a whole wealth of information on mediation, parenting and divorce.
If someone wants to start mediation, what are the next steps?
To start the process, you just need to book in your initial appointment – called a MIAM. In most cases they will need to attend this meeting anyway, but we can then write to the other party and invite them if the mediator and client agree to try mediation. We offer mediation at our network of branches or online anywhere in the world. Just give our office a call. Our lines are open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. You can find our contact information in The Hug Directory
There is still a lot of confusion on what family mediation actually is. Some still think it is about working out if the relationship is over, or that the mediator will tell them what they have to do. In a nutshell, family mediation replaces going to court, keeps you in control of the decisions that affect your life and helps you move on with your lives faster, more amicably and more cost-effectively than by going to court.
With a full financial order taking three hearings, an average of 11.5 months and, if you are represented by a solicitor, your fees will exceed £20,000 each. Giving mediation a go might just save you a lot of time, stress and money.
Bio : Ali Carter is the Managing Director of Divorce Ltd, which trades as Mediate UK. He is a Mediator, Divorce Negotiator and has been previously through a divorce himself. He has helped clients in over 3000 divorce or separations since 2010.