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Ministers and family lawyers joined forces last week to back a scheme to keep divorce breakups out of the courts. The Law Society launched a new quality mark and accreditation scheme aimed at promoting high standards of family mediation.
The Family Mediation Panel is the Law Society's new accreditation scheme for solicitor-mediators and members must demonstrate high levels of skill and training, as well as being seen to adhere to a code of practice.
Law Society chief executive Janet Paraskeva said that mediation was "extremely valuable in dealing with the range of problems families face when relationships break down". She continued: "In light of the growing importance of mediation in family situations, the Family Mediation Panel is an important development. It will enable the Law Society to guarantee the quality of services offered by solicitors who do family mediation work, giving clients confidence in the solicitor they choose."
According to the Law Society, the new panel would be recognised as "a badge of quality" by the public, judiciary and others involved in family law, and would be qualified to carry out publicly-funded mediation work.
Lord Filkin, Parliamentary Undersecretary at the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA), welcomed the move as "an important contribution to family mediation".
"Mediation can provide better outcomes in family disputes, particularly when children are involved, by enabling better continuing communication between the parties," said Filkin. "The Government is currently taking forward a number of initiatives to reduce the number of family disputes that end up in the courts."
Publicly-funded family mediation is already available to eligible parties from 230 service providers. One initiative flagged up by the press last week as being considered by ministers was US-style parenting schemes, whereby divorcing parents would draw up a 'parenting plan' before going to court to battle over contact.
A pilot scheme is expected to be announced by Margaret Hodge, the Minister for Children, with the backing of the DCA.