Government measures may be damaging progress of family mediation

Whilst the coalition government has moved to ease the traffic going through law courts and tribunals, the measures it is introducing may only serve to slow the progress of family mediation. Having made sweeping cuts to legal aid it was clear that the government needed to take action but lawyers now fear that the use of the family mediation – a highly effective tool in resolving divorce disputes – may suffer as a result.

It is widely accepted that family mediation is more cost-effective, expeditious and amicable than court divorce. Whilst many believed that the government would move to promote mediation following last April’s withdrawal of legal aid from 250,000 family legal cases falling under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, it failed to do so. In fact, just £10m more was directed towards family mediation. This is despite the fact that the April 2011 pre-action protocol dictates that divorcing couples should attend a mediation session before an application to court is made regarding disputes over finances or children.

One would have thought that measures such as these would see the extension of family mediation and yet the use of this acclaimed method of dispute resolution fell sharply in April and the two subsequent months. Many mediators have claimed that during this time, their monthly incomes dropped by as much as 66%.

So what has gone wrong? There has been much speculation that the combined effect of the government’s new policies and the ban on legal aid referrals has directly contributed to the stuttering growth of family mediation. Previously, the funding code referral meant that those getting divorced with the help of legal aid had to meet with a mediator to discuss the method. This code was introduced in 2000 and was responsible for mediations going up from just under 1,000 in 2000 to nearly 14,000 in 2012.

Many lawyers are also dissatisfied with the lack of advertising of family mediation. Indeed, with so much being made of the removal of legal aid, many have simply assumed that public funding has been withdrawn for family mediation as well. The only real effort to advertise family mediation came in the form of a short YouTube video pointing to some of its advantages.

Another major problem facing mediators is that the pre action protocol. Couples receiving public funding for mediation are required to attend mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAM) but privately paying couples are merely ‘expected’ to do so. This vague language has meant that couples have not been going to MIAMs and many courts are failing to check whether or not they have done so. Some have called for MIAMs to be made compulsory for all couples but it has become clear that the courts need to become more vigilant as well in order for the protocol to be effective.

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Family mediation remains a cheaper and less stressful alternative to divorce despite the slowdown in its growth in recent months. Our trained mediators could help you with your divorce, so:

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