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Family Law: Divorcing couples face mandatory mediation

The government is introducing new measures that will force divorcing couples to attend a mediation session before they can proceed to court. The measures, due to come into force on 6th April, are part of the government's plans to shake-up divorce procedures and reduce the pressure on the family law courts.

The Justice Minister, Jonathan Djanogly, said mediation is "a quicker, cheaper and more amicable alternative" to resolving disputes through the family court system.

An individual currently spends an average of £2,823 in court costs and legal fees when they pursue their divorce disputes, often involving arrangements for children and financial settlements, through the courts. The Ministry of Justice believes mediation is cheaper, with figures from legal aid cases showing the average cost per person to be £535.

In addition, the average time spent in mediation is less than that spent in court; 110 days for mediation and 435 for court.

The new measures will require divorcing couples to attend a mandatory mediation session, which could cost them up to £140, before they can proceed to court.

If a case is not suitable for mediation, for example if one party refuses to participate, the case can continue to the family courts.

Certain cases are not suitable for mediation and the Ministry of Justice will not enforce the new measures in these cases. For example, if a dispute involves domestic violence or child protection proceedings, the parties will not be expected to attend mediation.

Djanogly hopes the new measures will decrease the strain on the family courts and help to reduce the £2billion legal aid bill in England and Wales.

However, critics argue that with the government's cuts to legal aid for separating couples, forcing couples to pay for legal advice and representation if mediation is unsuccessful is tantamount to a denial of access to justice.

Have you had a successful experience of mediation? Do you think couples should be forced to give it a go or do you think it should remain a voluntary process? You can discuss this and more in the FindLaw forum.

Related Links:

Read more about this story (Guardian)
Learn about mediation (FindLaw)
Family Mediation - Real life stories (FindLaw)
Find local family solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)