Fewer couples being referred to mediation by solicitors
New information released this week shows that fewer and fewer couples are being referred to mediation by solicitors, instead seeking out mediation services themselves.
The National Family Mediation service (NFM) statistics show that in the last year, the number of self-referrals rose from 19% to 51%.
It is thought that this sharp rise is due to the cuts to Legal Aid introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The Act removed virtually all Legal Aid for family law matters except in cases of domestic violence or child abduction. This coincided with new rules introduced early in 2014 which require couples to undertake a mediation assessment prior to making a court application.
The NFM Chief Executive, Jane Robey said:
‘The legal aid changes have caused referrals from solicitors to family mediators to collapse. The referral process has been flipped on its head with more and more people self-researching their options before making any commitments.’
Ms Robey encouraged solicitors and mediators together, saying that it would enhance the service that mediators provide:
‘Those who used to approach us had, more often than not, had the benefit of some early legal advice which provided some realism about the options available and helped to manage client expectation.’
What is mediation?
Mediation aims to form an agreement regarding children or finances in the event of a relationship breakdown. The goal is to reach as amicable as possible a compromise with input from both parties and an independent mediator. Because the mediator must be independent it cannot be the solicitor for either party. It can be quicker and less stressful than a lengthy court battle.
The resulting agreement can be drafted into a Consent Order by a solicitor and sealed by the court, making it legally binding.
Under new government rules couples are expected to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting before making an application to court. Some couples are exempted because of their circumstances.
Contact a solicitor for more information on how mediation could help you.