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The Ministry of Justice told divorcing couples, earlier this week (Wednesday), they must attend a compulsory mediation assessment before their case could be heard by any court.
Changes will be made to the Family Proceedings Rules in April and every solicitor will be required to send their client for a mediation assessment (23 February).
Justice minister Jonathan Djongley insisted that the new system would be more cost effective and deliver justice more efficiently.
“Currently many people repeatedly go to court to argue over matters they’re better placed to sort out themselves – like securing 30 minutes extra contact time or varying their allocated contact days. This is expensive and emotionally draining for all concerned,” he said.
It is worth remembering, however, that the announcement comes just months after the MoJ announced plans to scrap legal aid for family cases in an effort to cut the £800m bill that family justice costs the state annually.
Family lawyers have found themselves wading through a mass of legislative change as the Coalition Government presses ahead with its root and branch review of family law.
Such sweeping change has not gone unnoticed by the profession.
Earlier this month, Resolution chairman David Allison said: “The Government should shelve these quick-fix proposals and take a more considered, constructive approach. That includes fully joined-up thinking with its own ongoing Family Justice Review. Otherwise the Government risks creating an expensive mess that’ll cause misery for huge numbers of families and children” (16February).
According to Djongley the Family Justice Review was the motivating force behind the mediation initiative.
Family lawyers said while the mediation directive should be welcomed because it highlights alternatives to the courts, the Government should also give credence to other dispute resolution methods.
Responding to the initiative, the Law Society said: “Mediation cannot resolve a dispute if there is an imbalance of power between the parties, or if one side is being obstructive or withholding information. Nor does it work if parties are forced into the process. If mediation does not result in an agreement, it will add cost and time to the divorce process which cannot be in the interests of the parties.”
With family lawyers also being consulted on reforms on legal aid, child maintenance, cohabitation, access to justice in the family courts and pre-nuptial agreements , the to-do list is overflowing.