Putting your financial cards on the table

One of the questions that often crops up in the early stages of mediation is what financial information do I have to provide. The great thing about mediation is that the approach that is taken can be tailored to the clients in the process. In the court system everyone has to fill out the lengthy, cumbersome (and downright scary) Form E. It’s a 30 odd page form that takes a one size fits all approach to finances. For some people the Form E is useful because it acts as a prompt to note all the assets that they have.

For other people who, for example, own one property, have 2 bank accounts, a job and a pension, completing such a large document can be unnecessary. In mediation they may therefore choose to just provide documents evidencing the assets that they have. The level of detail may also be tailored to how knowledgeable clients are about their own financial situation. We see clients who have spent their entire relationship pooling their money in a joint account and making joint decisions about family finances. They may therefore both feel that it is unnecessary for them to formally get together bank statements as they both can access all accounts. Some information will of course be necessary so that the mediator understands their financial position.

For other couples one person may have managed the money and the other person may have had little to do with the family finances. There can also be a breakdown in trust following a relationship ending and for that couple it may be important that the financial information that is provided is really comprehensive, to enable the person who has not dealt with the money to really understand the family finances. If they do not feel confident with this information then they may wish to go through it with their lawyer, or financial professional, in more detail. The mediator must always be sure to work through financial information at a pace that is suitable for both parties. Many people are not knowledgeable or savvy about financial matters and a good mediator should never assume that both people in the room understand money matters. No one should ever be made to feel inferior about their understanding in mediation either. Mediation is about empowering people and equipping them for the next stage of their life and giving them the tools to feel confident about this.

This flexibility to deal with matters in a way that works for both parties should never be confused with using mediation as a forum for avoiding providing full financial information. Both parties need to have sufficient information to enable them to make informed decisions about what happens next. They need to be able to make decisions without fear of regretting them in the future. No one can do that with only part of the financial information they need. Can you confidently say what the picture is with only half the jigsaw puzzle pieces in front of you?

If you are unsure about what financial information should be provided then ask the mediator for more information. If you’re still not sure then you can ask your lawyer (if you have one) for advice on the issue. It’s important to note that just because you provide information about an asset it doesn’t mean that asset will automatically be divided between the two of you. It’s about ensuring everyone has all the information they need to make considered choices. This also offers each of you protection because in certain circumstances it can be possible to re-open agreed financial orders because one party has not provided full and frank information. Properly providing full financial information throughout the process gives you both the confidence that decisions you’re making are the right ones and that the resolution you shape will be a long lasting one that properly serves you both, and any children you may have.

Louisa Whitney

Accredited family mediator