No meditation for family law

Over the years, mediation and family law have often gone hand in hand. The combination of the two promotes a positive image of saving time and money for everyone concerned.

These savings come as pressure on overburdened courts is reduced and couples can come together in order to find an amicable solution to their dispute. Costs are also reduced because legal aid is readily available for mediating parties

But statistics do not paint a picture of mediation being readily accepted by parties in dispute.

In February 2014 it was revealed by the Ministry of Justice that the number of family mediations funded by legal aid has plunged by 45% each year since 2012. Attendance at mediation information and assessment meetings also fell by 57% over the same period. In comparison with the 1281 publically funded UK based mediations in October 2012, data from the Ministry of Justice showed that in October 2013 only 707 were commenced.

In response to these figures, family law expert Marilyn Stowe took the view that it is very uncommon for couples to reach a friendly decision when splitting. According to Stowe, “as much as the government’s promotion of mediation looks logical, its enthusiasm is misguided.” Her reasoning is that mediation does not take into account the emotional fallout inevitably involved in these types of proceedings. She explains that in her experience she has noted clients are “beyond having reasonable discussions with their partner”. All they want is for someone to represent their interests as quickly as possible.

Mediation can be effective in a fairly small selection of cases when the parties involved in a dispute are willing to negotiate. But to make this most effective both parties need to have a reasonable idea of future financial requirements.

As well as this, family law cases can involve instances where there has been a complete breakdown of relationship. People can be irritated and emotionally unstable, yet the outcome. Making life-altering decisions in the face of understandable emotions is arguably an additional strain.

Though family law legal aid remains in cases involving domestic violence and abuse, its absence in proceedings concerning divorce, child custody disputes or asset division is likely to be felt. Mediation does have a place, but it seems clear that the numbers do not reflect an uptake in its method. The intricacies and dynamic of family law disputes may explain why. Sometimes people are unable to settle their differences amicably. If they cannot afford legal representation, settling these differences via mediation and outside of court remains the only option. An option that on the face of it is not yet a popular one. 

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