Relate scheme aims for co-operation

Family lawyers have welcomed a new training scheme to help them advise clients seeking divorce on counselling and mediation options.

The scheme, launched last week by the National Solicitors' Network and the marriage guidance service Relate, aims to equip solicitors with an understanding of the 'conciliatory' spirit of the new divorce reforms.

Under the Relate Quality Partnership firms will be vetted after their training for a place on a quality accredited list which will be distributed to Relate counsellors. Counsellors can then refer clients to solicitors who they know have appropriate experience.

Speaking at the launch, the Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay said: “The aim of the scheme is to foster a more co-operative and interdisciplinary approach to family law. Lawyers should communicate not only the knowledge and professionalism that clients need to see them through divorce, but also an attitude which says: 'Should you not pause and, if possible, turn back? You can always reconsider, discuss, change your mind.'”

The scheme's code of practice includes provisions from the Solicitors Family Law Association's own code.

Nigel Shepherd, the association chair, said: “We welcome any move which improves the quality of advice clients receive. However, it is a commercial scheme and it must not be confused with what we would like to achieve via a specialist family accreditation scheme.”

David Hodson, a partner at the Family Law Consortium, said: “The Family Law Act means solicitors will increasingly receive referrals from established organisations – they will therefore have to take on new skills.”