Separating couples offered more free mediation

More separating couples are to benefit from free mediation, the government has announced.

From 3 November, the Ministry of Justice will fund the first mediation session for both parties, provided at least one of them is legally aided.

On 22 April this year, mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAM) became compulsory before couples can go to court over matters relating to their children and financial issues.

Now, from 3 November, the first mediation session will be funded for both parties, provided at least one of them is legally aided.

Announcing the new move, the government said that nearly two-thirds of couples who attended mediation regarding children issues reached general agreement after a single mediation session. Almost seven in ten couples who opted for mediation reached a final agreement.

Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes said: “Our objective is to see more people resolving issues and reaching agreements on their own terms through mediation. It is often more successful, less expensive and less stressful than going to court and that is why we are committed to making sure more people use it.”

The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, gave a cautious welcome to the move. President Andrew Caplen said: “An increase in government funding to support separating and divorcing couples is welcome, but we do not expect this measure to make a significant impact on the number of couples resolving their disputes away from the courtroom. This will only help those couples where at least one person is eligible for legal aid, and the eligibility rules are tightly drawn.”

Hannah Kelly, head of Palmers’ Family Law team, said: “Another option that provides a constructive and cost-effective alternative to court proceedings is collaborative law, which we offer at Palmers.

“In this approach, both parties appoint their own lawyer but instead of negotiating by phone or letter, they and their lawyers meet face-to-face to work things out.

“You and your lawyers also sign an agreement committing all parties to try to resolve the issues without going to court and preventing the lawyers who represented you in the collaborative process from representing you in court if the collaborative approach fails, ensuring that everyone is committed to finding the best solutions by negotiation, rather than going to court. For more information, please contact us.”