QualitySolicitors Lockings announce to divorcing couples that from 6 April 2011, anyone struggling to agree on arrangements concerning children, finances or property in the UK will be required to go to mediation before being able to make their case in the courts.
Usually lawyers aim for an agreed solution through negotiation because going to court is stressful and expensive – although, this is not always possible and, in some cases, the court is the only appropriate way of resolving the problems.
Reports say that anyone wishing to apply for legal aid is currently required to attempt to engage in mediation with the other party before legal aid is granted to cover the cost of court proceedings. This has been the case for a number of years. However, the intended effect of the extension is to compel privately paying clients to go down the same road.
Paul Kirby, Family Solicitor from QualitySolicitors Lockings says:
“The main virtue of mediation is that it is voluntary. Those couples who do commit to mediation are often successful in negotiating an agreement of their issues. Even under the new rules, as I understand, it will be possible for one spouse to simply refuse to engage in mediation at all, thus rendering the requirement worthless.”
“The philosophy of my department is always to encourage and assist our clients to reach a satisfactory and amicable resolution of their problems. This has benefits in terms of reducing the cost and stress of the situation and in some cases preserving the relationship between the parties. In particular where children are concerned, as a relationship can easily sour during adversarial court proceedings.”
“The only change with this new rule will be for private clients, as solicitors will now have to make it clear that this referral is a requirement, rather than a recommendation, especially in cases where it seems that court is likely to be the next step.”
“It is important however to remember that mediation is not marriage guidance. The mediator’s brief is to assist the parties in reaching an agreement as to issues arising from their separation as opposed to encouraging them to pursue reconciliation. We find that by the time most of our clients consult us, reconciliation is unlikely.”
“The Government’s issue is that Legal Aid divorces are putting a strain of £2 Billion per year on the family courts and because mediation can be a cheaper option than court the Ministry of Justice wants mediation to be the first option for couples in England and Wales. ”
“Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke recently announced plans to scrap civil legal aid for a range of cases and this should be a cause for great concern to the public, as well as to the legal profession, as it will inevitably deny access to justice to many people.”