Law change brings in ‘mediation first’ rule

Separating couples will be legally required to find out about ways to settle disputes away from the courtroom, under new laws currently going through Parliament.

The changes, introduced as part of the Children and Families Bill, will mean that separating couples will have to attend an initial information and assessment session to see whether it would be better for them to use mediation, rather than becoming involved in a legal battle about arrangements for children and financial arrangements.

Family Justice Minister Lord McNally said: “I want to see separating couples, wherever possible, use mediation. The court should be a last resort when couples are working out how to split assets and arrange time with the children.”

The Ministry of Justice says that there has been recent significant growth in the number of people successfully using mediation – where they are helped to agree the issues between themselves rather than argue it out through lawyers – and the government has allocated £25 million to support this approach.

Mediation enables people to explain their concerns and needs in the presence of a qualified mediator, giving them the opportunity to communicate directly with each other. This approach encourages them to decide a mutually acceptable outcome, rather than going through the courts.

These changes will ensure couples at least have an opportunity to find out more about mediation and whether they feel comfortable about using this approach. If they do decide it is right for them, mediation could help to reduce the time, stress and expense involved in resolving the issues arising from their family breakdown. At Palmers Solicitors, we are highly experienced in advising clients on all areas of family law, including the use of various ways to resolve issues amicably and outside of court when divorcing or separating.

We have produced a downloadable guide to divorce and separation (please link to guide), which covers some of the key issues you need to consider, including the use of alternative methods to resolve disputes.

For further information, please visit our website or contact one of our fee earners.