The MOJ will instead encourage those separating to seek early legal advice, with the first stage of this proposed plan to be region specific for those specifically having difficulty agreeing their children’s residence arrangements.
You can read all about it in this article from STEP.
This will have implications for divorcing couples, for whom mediation more often than not provides a vital first step in preventing excessively contentious divorce proceedings.
We spoke with Senior Associate Solicitor Stuart Barton, who holds a particular specialism in divorce, separation & family finance matters.
Here’s what he had to say regarding this recent change of heart from the MOJ.
“This news is somewhat disappointing as mediation can be an effective tool in helping many couples reach an amicable agreement arising from separation, saving costs and time in the process. However, it would be wrong to suggest that ‘compulsory mediation’ was a novel idea or game-changer in this sense.
The legal position is that for an applicant who wishes to make a court application arising from separation, whether concerning children or finances, the court requires the applicant to have at least attended a mediation information meeting before they make that application.
There of course exemptions to this requirement, especially for those who have been a victim of domestic abuse and this perhaps illustrates a lack of proper thought behind the original plans. To suggest that mediation should ever be compulsory is a mistake. There are many victims of domestic abuse you would understandably have massive concerns and reservations over being forced into attending mediation with their abuser.
The reality is that there is no ‘one size fits all solution’ for the above as every separation is unique. For some couples, mediation may well be safe and sensible. For others, expert financial advice upon tax or pensions might be needed before they can properly understand the implications of how their assets might be fairly divided. In some cases, it may be clear from the outset that it is a ‘high risk’ case where involvement of the court may be necessary from the outset to ensure children are safeguarded.
What would perhaps make a massive difference to many couples would be a nationwide scheme whereby separating couples can obtain initial advice from a solicitor so their case can be ‘triaged’ and their legal options explained to them.
The complexities and shortfalls in the Legal Aid system leave a massive number of people who are unable to obtain Legal Aid but are also unable to meet legal costs without financial assistance.
What is clear is that more help must be given to separating couples because our existing underfunded and inefficient family court system needs help.”
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