Fewer couples opting for mediation when relationships break down

couple break-upThe number of divorcing couples seeking mediation instead of court proceedings has plunged since legal aid cuts were implementing – meaning a key government strategy is failing.

The Ministry of Justice’s Legal Aid Statistics published the week before Christmas revealed that the 450 family law mediation cases started between July to September of 2014 was just 35 per cent of the number started for the same period back in 2011.

When the government removed legal aid funding from divorce cases with its Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishing of Offenders Act, which was implemented in April 2013, its stated aim was to see the use of mediation to solve divorce disputes double – keeping couples out of the courts.

Since April of last year, divorce applicants have to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. But only the applicant has to attend there is no compulsion on the respondent to turn up – meaning some of the assessment meetings are pointless. Respondents go to their own MIAMs.

The reason for the drop is that with the removal of legal aid there are fewer solicitors available to send clients for mediation and a low public awareness that mediation is even an option, according to a recent report from the government appointed Family Mediation Task Force.

The Task Force recently called on the Ministry of Justice to do more to promote mediation and to publicise that there is still legal aid for mediation for those with limited means. It also said more needed to be done to publicise the existence of the Family Mediation Council which is composed of the Law Society and Resolution for solicitors and various mediation bodies including the Family Mediators Association and the College of Mediators.

The Council promises divorcing couples that mediation will save them time money and stress. The process helps couples reach agreement on care arrangements for children and on family finances. Mediation is often backed up by legal advice from solicitors and the agreement can also be enforced by the courts with a consent order. The process is often easier and cheaper than court room battles.

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