The history of family mediation in the UK – part 1

Familu Mediation – rooted in history

In the legal world it is easy to believe that mediation is a new form of conflict resolution, however such couldn’t be any further from the truth. The technique of mediation dates back thousands of years and is in fact deep rooted in ancient times. With such historical roots, it is no surprise that it remains a primary form of conflict resolution in Eastern and Western cultures. In fact, countries such as Japan and China still utilise the technique on a national scale. Mediation stands as a common alternative to court proceedings with regards to family law. However, the field is not without its critics, especially in the United Kingdom (UK), where its effectiveness has been regularly debated.

Family mediation in the United Kingdom

In the UK mediation has its strongest association with family law. The reason being that the Government planned to utilise the technique in an effort to stop divorce proceedings racking up costly court fees. The initial idea was that family mediation would help curb the tradition of court-based divorces, while reducing the monetary and emotional issues that stem from dragged out divorce proceedings.

Even though the thought was there, it can be argued that the Government were overly optimistic on the impact that mediation would have in the UK. It has never really translated into the form of divorce resolution that it was meant to be. The plan was that it would help reduce the need for court action via the 1996 Family Law Act, however it has failed to deter people from taking the costly court route in getting divorced. The reasons surrounding the inability for mediation to gain momentum in the UK included the following:

  •  It never appeared to have the flexibility that it should have had, often appearing rigid and unaccommodating. Some labelled mediation meetings as a one-size-fits-all process, which never really took into consideration that each divorce varies greatly in size and situation.
  • The limited numbers that actually opted for mediation didn’t give the process glowing reviews. This hindered its creditability from day one, with the range of opinions about the service becoming widely known:
  •  Just how necessary mediation is was regularly asked, as little was rarely done to actually conclude or even lead to an agreement between spouses.
  •  It wasn’t initially considered mandatory to attend, meaning that some meetings never even occurred as scheduled. Even when it did become mandatory, couples that attended made little to no effort to participate.
  •  Trust is always an issue when it comes to divorcing spouses, so what was stated during the mediation wasn’t always taken seriously, sometimes resulting in a stalemate.
  •  Court based divorce options are considered traditional in the UK, with mediation finding it hard to shake off the alternative tag.

The numbers opting for mediation were quite low, with only around 8000 taking part in information meetings. Only 10% of those chose mediation as a way to resolve divorce disputes and only 10% of that admitting that it helped resolve their issues. Even some of those admitted that they still needed legal input to reach an agreement. Mediation in some regards was doomed to fail in its early days; lack of information and poor organisation meant that it would never get off on the right foot.

Family Mediation- Failure to launch

The Government wasn’t shy in giving reasons as to why mediation wasn’t well received, but research proved to be the telling factor. It was too easily confused with marriage counselling and reconciliation, thus putting people off from agreeing to get involved. Other reasons listed were:

• The divorce at hand was too complex to resolve in a mediation environment.

• Not all parties were willing to attend mediation appointments.

• There was a lack of issues to actually mediate, especially when there was good communication between spouses in spite of the divorce.

• Certain spouses believed that the only way to protect their possessions during a divorce was with legal protection, effectively nullifying any talks that did take place.

Initially mediation meetings were a publicly funded legal aid, they were considered a precursor to any further divorce action and were mandatory should a couple want to claim further financial support. There were several exemptions to this rule. Those who couldn’t attend mediation due to a lack of available mediators, along with those involved in a divorce based upon domestic violence were allowed to bypass mediation.

Think that family mediation might suit you? Contact our specialists now

If you are looking for a way to sort out any family law issues, which is less expensive, acrimonious and time consuming than court divorce, you make sure you contact one of our family mediation specialists. Our family law team includes two jointly qualified family lawyers/mediators.

• Phone us on one of the local numbers below;

SALISBURY [01722] 422300

AMESBURY [01980] 622992

ANDOVER[01264] 364433               

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