It has been announced today that the UK Government is to introduce compulsory Family Mediation prior to any court proceeding regarding financial or children matters, except for cases that involve issues of domestic violence.
These changes will come into force 6th April 2011. Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly has commented that ‘Family Law Mediation is a quicker, cheaper and more amicable alternative to over-worked family courts.’
He added, ‘nearly every time I ask someone if their stressful divorce battle through the courts was worth it, they say no. ’These changes will require people wishing to apply to a Judge for an order to attended Family Mediation sessions that can cost in the region of £300 per hour.
Slater and Gordon Family & Divorce Solicitor Georgina Chase commented that ‘this can be far in excess of the rates of a Divorce Solicitor who will be giving the same legal advice to the client. This may actually lead to an increase in people seeking legal advice from a Divorce Solicitor from day one.’
Indeed it is the case that Family & Divorce Solicitors should deal with disputes in a constructive and non-confrontational way, avoiding conflict and ensuring that court is a last resort where negotiation fails.
I myself am a member of Resolution which requires members to act in this manner and in addition to this ensure that financial matters and children matters are dealt with separately and that the needs of the children as put first. If this is how Solicitors should act then the question is what is the actual benefit of these new changes?
I do encourage people getting a divorce mediate and negotiate and have experienced positive outcomes using Family Mediation, however client’s are advised that there is a cost for Family Mediation which may be in excess of the fees of my own in performing the same role.
I have also seen the other side of the coin, where Family Mediation has just added to the expense of divorce proceedings and delayed matters further. Imposing this on parties therefore may in fact do the exact opposite of what the changes intend.
Isabel Thornton, a colleague at Slater and Gordon, believes that the UK Government are using this as a smoke-screen for cuts to be made to legal aid. ‘How are people expected to fund this expensive requirement when the Government are looking to make cuts to Legal Aid?
You may find that in a divorec case where one person holds the majority of the finncial assets, they can simply do what they like and issue divorce proceedings after the first Family Mediation session, making divorce proceedings too expensive for the other person and limiting their access to advice and justice.’
Another consideration is picked up on by Family Solicitor Kirsten Grotte, who said, ‘What we may find is a return to the bad old days where unsubstantiated allegations of domestic abuse are raised to avoid the costs and delay of Mediation. This again, simply causes more conflict and acrimony.’
I do hope that these planned changes do work and benefit divorce clients, however given that we should be acting in the manner that the changes propose I question whether this would be the case and what actual benefit will be achieved. Statistic have been rife today regarding divorce court proceedings taking months, years perhaps and Family Mediation providing the quick solution, however not all cases take this long if matters are negotiated upon following sound advice from the start and managing client’s expectations.
Even after agreements are reached in Family Mediation sessions, expert legal advice should be sought to ensure that it is a fair outcome and that the courts will accept the agreement made.
For a free initial consultation about Family Mediation call Slater and Gordon Lawyers on freephone or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help.
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