Everyone has arguments now and then. But when things get serious, you might start looking for legal help. You could even feel that your only option is a long court case.

Another way to resolve a dispute is mediation. Compared to a court case, mediation could:

  • cost less
  • be quicker
  • be less stressful.

Mediation is when an independent person (a mediator) helps both sides come to an agreement. The mediator does not take sides or decide what should happen. The mediator's job is to help the two sides talk to each other, so that they can come to an agreement.

Mediation alone is sometimes enough to resolve a dispute. Or mediation can cut down the time you have to spend in court. You could use a mediator if:

  • your relationship has broken down and you disagree with your ex-partner about when you will see your children and what will happen to the home you shared (This is called family mediation.)
  • you are unhappy with the way you have been treated at work or your employer has sacked you unfairly.

There are other situations in which you could use a mediator. But these two are the most common. In many family court matters, you must go to a meeting about mediation before you can go to court. The Government's website can tell you more about whether your case is like this. There are some exceptions - for example, if there has been domestic abuse.

If you want to take your employer to a tribunal over a workplace issue, you will have to talk about it with ACAS, which may offer mediation as an option.

What can a mediator do?

Mediators can:

  • listen to both sides of the story
  • help you come to an agreement that suits both of you
  • meet with both sides (together and on your own)
  • make a document for you to agree on and sign, as a record of what you have agreed
  • decide that mediation is not right for you and that you should go to court instead.

Mediators should not:

  • take sides in a disagreement
  • force one side or the other to agree to something
  • tell anyone about things you discussed during mediation if you have not agreed to this.

Mediators cannot:

  • represent you in court
  • manage your court case
  • make a legal judgement about who is right or wrong
  • draw up a document that each side legally must comply with
  • create a legal document that cannot be overturned in court
  • decide if either side has stuck to the terms of an agreement
  • force either side to stick to an agreement
  • punish either side if they don't stick to an agreement
  • grant you access to your children
  • grant you a divorce.

Are mediators regulated?

Mediators are not regulated—their activities are not controlled, and anyone can call themselves a mediator. Some mediators have professional qualifications. Others do not.

Many mediators are members of professional bodies, which set standards for their members. Standards might cover insurance, training and codes of conduct:

How are you protected if you use a mediator?

If you pay for a mediator, you should be treated fairly and get a good level of service under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Mediators are not regulated. This means that even when you pay to use a mediator, if things go wrong you will not get the same protections you would when using a regulated lawyer. See our legal options page to learn more.

If a mediator is a member of a professional body, it could take action if something goes wrong. A mediator who is not a member of a professional body could state their terms and conditions and be insured, But remember that not all mediators are insured to cover claims if anything goes wrong. And non-members do not need to follow a code of conduct, which means there are no rules about how they must act.

Top tip: Ask your mediator what protections will be available to you. Check to see if they are insured, follow a code of conduct or belong to a professional body. Find this out from their website or ask them directly before agreeing to use their services.

What can I do if I have a complaint about my mediator?

If you aren't happy with the way things are going with your mediator, don't be afraid to speak up. Contact them to say what's gone wrong. Ask them to put things right.

If you are paying your mediator, you have rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. If your mediator is a member of a professional body and you feel your mediator has not met the standard of service expected of the body's members, the professional body could look into your complaint. If you're still unhappy, the professional body could pass on your complaint to an external adjudicator.

The Legal Ombudsman can't deal with your complaint, as it can only look at service complaints about regulated legal service providers.

How should I pay for a mediator?

The cost of using a family mediator is usually split between the two sides of the dispute. Employers often cover the costs of workplace mediation. However, the law does not say how the cost of mediation should be covered. So, you need to ask your mediator how they expect to be paid.

Sometimes mediation is free. If a complaint about employment rights is headed to an employment tribunal, mediation is free of charge—and so is small claims mediation. Family mediation can be free if you qualify for legal aid. Many mediators offer a way to pay by installments.

Top tip: Before using a mediator, ask them to tell you what work they will do for you and to explain all of the costs or how the costs will be worked out.

More about paying for legal services

Where can I find a mediator?

You could look for mediators who belong to a professional body such as the College of Mediators, the Family Mediation Council, ACAS, or the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution

Regulated legal advisers like solicitors can recommend mediators—and will do so in family law cases that go to mediation before going to court.

If you qualify for legal aid, use the Government's Find a legal aid adviser website to search for a mediator in your area.