Referrals to Family Mediation are Rapidly Declining

There are many reasons for the introduction of mediation into a legal matter. In addition to finding suitable alternatives for childcare and financial arrangements, family mediation can help to prevent long winded or drawn out court sessions.

The government introduced mediation as a vital part of the legal family process in an effort to abate those people concerned that the removal of legal aid would cause huge problems for the family courts, leaving them massively overworked and the clients suffering.

However, recent evidence suggests that the referrals to these mediation sessions have in fact dropped. Official statistics obtained by the Law Society Gazette show that the number of family mediation referrals fell by an average of 26% for the period April to June 2013 when compared with the same period in 2012.

The Reasons

Whenever a significant pattern or turn of events is records, then it stands to reason that experts will attempt to find a reason for the pattern.

In the case of mediation services throughout 2013, it is worth commenting that legal aid for private family matters (such as divorce or child contact) was removed as part of government cuts as of April this year.

Whilst Legal Aid is still available for mediation, for many other matters, it may not be applicable and whilst many of the referrals for family mediation Southampton might come from solicitors, if their numbers have also dwindled due to a lack of public funding, then it stands to reason that the number of clients they are able to refer for mediation would also drop significantly.

The Solution

As one of the government’s biggest ideas, it’s unlikely that people including legal practitioners will be able to forget that services such as Lamport Bassitt family mediation services exist altogether. However, a solution must be found to the low numbers.

In one case, there is the prospect that as of January 2014 family mediation will be compulsory. What this means is that any party wishing to start legal proceedings in the family court will not be allowed to do so until they have attended a MIAM, the name given to a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting. However, as much as this may be a step in the right direction, practitioners and legal professionals have expressed concern that this could be too late as many of the mediators who would provide the services would have gone out of business by then as a result of the lower numbers of people attending mediation.

A further suggestion comes from Lord MacNally in his March 2013 speech when he suggested, even prior to the release of the figures that mediators themselves have a large part to play in promoting their services to the legal profession and building relationships with firms of solicitors. He said, “I am looking to you, the family mediation profession, to bring family mediation into the mainstream as the first choice for families to help them make their arrangements post separation – and not just because they have to. Regardless of your background, mediation, the law, or social work, you can bring this about.”

If you require mediation services visit www.lbmediation.co.uk for more information about Lamport Bassitt Mediation Services.

Mediation takes a front seat with a boost of government funding

After the recent cuts to legal aid the government has taken steps to redress the balance in favour of separated parents by announcing £6.5 million of support. The money will help over a quarter of a million separated parents throughout Britain, funding pioneering and innovative support to help them work together for the sake of their children.

The new funding has been awarded to seven voluntary and third sector organisations and will give around 280,000 separated families targeted help to work together in their children’s interests. The funding is part of £20 million the government has dedicated to helping separated families, as it attempts to provide as much support to out of court settlements as possible following the large cuts to legal aid. The coalition will hope that this extra funding will prevent warring couples from representing themselves in court, which slows down the legal process and often results in vitriolic testimonies against former partners. Taking couples away out of this confrontational environment should create a more constructive atmosphere that is much less harmful to any children involved.

The government funding has been awarded to projects in Powys, Oxfordshire, Cheshire, Newcastle, Warwickshire, Scotland, Kent, Stirlingshire, Angus, Birmingham and the West Midlands. The projects include an online tool that provides coaching to separated couples and face to face guidance and mediation projects to help low income couples. Alongside the schemes are plans for parenting classes for teenage mums and dads, counselling and therapy projects and specialist support for those who live in fear of their ex-partners.

The focus on providing mediation services highlights the government’s desire to protect the interests of children in these situations. Because mediation is focused on helping couples resolve their differences amicably there is less risk of the separation being hostile as it can often be when taken through the court system. Children will be better off in a family where parents are on good terms and focussed on being the best possible parents to their children, rather than looking after their own personal interests.

It will be some time before we can assess the impact of the government’s latest efforts to give families an alternative to going through the court system. Whilst the cuts to legal aid may help to cut the deficit in the long term, critics of the move will maintain that in many cases mediation is simply not viable as an option for those separating. In many relationships communication deteriorates to such an extent that mediation will not help and court proceedings are ultimately required. However this latest round of funding is focussed on helping parents re-engage with each other no matter how bad their relationship has become. Legal aid is no longer a reality for many separated families, and they will have to decide if they want what is best for their children before completely rejecting family mediation.

About the author: Ramsdens Solicitors offers help settling child custody disputes inside and outside of court.

Is family mediation right for me?

Family mediation is a useful alternative to the courts for divorcing couples. It can save time, money and stress, whilst providing an out-of-court solution that both halves of a couple agree is fair.

The government has thrown their weight behind this solution, although they have stopped short of making it compulsory. Nevertheless, it is proving to be an increasingly popular method of sorting out disputes surrounding custody, finances or the division of assets.

What is family mediation?

Family mediation involves both halves of a couple attending meetings with a professional mediator. In a calm and relaxed environment, the three of them will thrash out the terms and conditions of their divorce.

Professional mediators are trained to be completely unbiased and are able to offer useful advice which can prevent couples from having to go through the stress of a courtroom battle.

If a couple is able to agree terms through mediation sessions, they will be drafted into a summary for the couple’s solicitors to run the rule over and, ultimately, a legally binding document can be produced.

Mediation sessions allow divorcing couples to separate their assets at a much cheaper cost. It can also speed up the divorce process quite dramatically. The government is happy for court schedules to be freed up and separating couples are generally over the moon if their divorce is made quite a bit easier.

Limitations

Unfortunately, family mediation is not for everyone. Both halves of a couple have to agree to attend mediation sessions and be willing to listen to their mediator’s advice. Those who are too stubborn to do this will be unlikely to come to an agreement and are ultimately wasting their time and money. Cases which involve domestic violence or heavy drug use are unlikely to be suitable for mediation sessions.

It’s also worth noting that mediators are unable to offer legal advice, meaning it is often appropriate to seek help from a solicitor throughout the case. This ensures that both halves of a couple understand all the topics that are discussed and are fully aware of the implications of agreeing with the mediator.

If either half of the couple is looking to get one over on their spouse and ‘win’ the verdict, then mediation is unlikely to prove effective. These sessions are only for those who are looking for an amicable divorce.

The future

One of the major criticisms of family mediation is that it encourages those who would probably clean up in the courts to settle. For some, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It would appear that this was a boundary to making family mediation compulsory.

Nevertheless, family justice minister Lord McNally is adamant that mediation will play an even bigger role when settling family disputes in the future.

In 2013, he told a Family Mediation Council conference that their “time is now” and that they have a “once in a generation opportunity” to raise the profile of their profession.

So, regardless of whether it is made compulsory, it could be a safe bet that we could witness more and more couples divorcing outside of court in the future.

How Can Family Mediation Help Couples Through Separation?

Whether you are experiencing the breakdown of a relationship or a marriage, family mediators can help you and your family through this difficult time.

Mediators help individuals produce a mutual agreement that will benefit both individuals. It is designed to help people focus on the future, once their separation has been finalised.

Couples find family mediation extremely comforting as mediators are completely impartial and unbiased. Instead of telling you what is right for you, mediators work with you to reduce any stress or conflict, assisting you to make your own decision. Individuals will be given the same amount of time to work through their stresses and problems. A mediator will only intervene if they feel any children’s needs or feelings are not being considered.

Mediation usually occurs in three stages; the initial meeting, working progress meetings and a final proposal meeting.

In the initial meeting you and your partner will meet with a mediator and discuss any issues you wish to resolve during the process. Your mediator may advise you to seek other help during this period, including financial or child support.  You can see a lawyer at any time during the mediation process. At this initial stage, you will also have to agree on times and dates when you both are willing to attend meetings. Compromise is a large part of mediation, so it’s beneficial to start with an agreement on meeting times.

During the sessions you will work through your issues with the mediator and try to find solutions that suit both of you. Talk about what your main concerns are and what you fear the most. Mediators will assist you during your own personal solutions to the issues you raise. Within the meetings you will both be working on a Mediation Summary, which is legal document stating what you each agree to stick to after your separation.

Once you have finalised the proposals which you both find acceptable, a copy will be sent to each of the party’s lawyers. If your proposals are approved by your lawyers, they will convert the proposals into a legal binding contract.

The first step towards family mediation will be contacting a solicitor who will set the ball rolling. Your solicitor will ask you and your partner to attend the initial meeting where you will meet your mediator. They will explain the whole process to you, giving you time to ask any questions or raise any queries. During this meeting, it will allow you and your partner to decide whether mediation is the right path for you.

If you do decide to go-ahead with the mediation process, you will attend a number of these sessions until you complete your Mediation Summary.

If you would like more information on family mediation, contact family law solicitors – Burt Brill and Cardens.

The Benefits of Mediated Divorce

(Guest post from San Diego divorce lawyers) When a married couple chooses to seek an end to their relationship, it may be in their benefit to consider pursuing mediated divorce. Unlike contested divorce proceedings, which can involve lengthy court battles and costly attorney’s fees, mediated divorce is a simple, relatively painless process that can help to reduce the stress that married couples may experience during a divorce.

Mediated divorce isn’t right for all couples. For those who have been involved in an abusive relationship, those who believe their partner is at fault for the dissolution of their marriage, those who have a particularly acrimonious relationship with their spouse, and others, mediated divorce may not be able to resolve the differences between the two sides. However, for many couples, a mediated divorce can have a significantly better outcome for both sides than can a court settlement.

Mediated Divorce Benefits

Mediated divorce involves both parties to the relationship meeting with a neutral third party, who acts as a mediator and helps guide their individual wishes to a mutually agreed upon divorce settlement. By giving both sides an opportunity to speak their minds and reach a consensus about the various aspects of their divorce, mediated divorce can provide a wide range of benefits, including:

  • Ÿ  Reduced costs – mediated divorces often cost a divorcing couple a small fraction of what a court settlement would cost.
  • Ÿ  Shorter timeframe – divorces achieved through mediation take, on average, anywhere between three to ten sessions, around two hours each, to be resolved. This is often much less time than a court settlement would require.
  • Ÿ  Reduced stress – mediated divorce can help to reduce the stress that both spouses may feel during the divorce process by allowing their input to help determine the outcome and reducing the uncertainty that relying on a court’s decision can entail.

Because of these various reasons, mediated divorce is often the best option available for a couple. However, mediated divorce may not be right for every couple in every situation, and in these instances, it is advisable to pursue the assistance of a qualified divorce lawyer to achieve a suitable end to the relationship.

Family Law Mediation and Mediators in Scotland

Guest blawg post by Gavin Ward as posted to WardblawG

On Wednesday 30th March, I attended a Relationships Scotland event, hosted by HBJ Gateley Wareing in Glasgow and attended by family law professionals across Scotland. The event was of particular interest given the recent review of family law in England and Wales, one element of which concerns the fact that mediation for divorcing couples shall, as of 6 April 2011, be compulsory prior to them attending Court, subject to limited exceptions. For further information on this see a blog post by a family law firm in Liverpool. While mediation for divorcing couples is not yet compulsory in Scotland, it is becoming more widely available.Relationships Scotland Image

What is Parenting Apart?

Parenting Apart groups give parents the skills and confidence to communicate with their children about their separation or divorce in child-friendly language. Importantly, parents get the chance to chat with others going through the same as them. Groups are hosted by two family mediators giving parents the chance to speak to a qualified professional about any issues around parenting their children or their relationship with their ex-partner following their split.

Key Speakers at the Event

Although I have seldom practised family law myself (although I do now work with family lawyers), I still found the event very informative with speakers conveying ideas with clear expression.

Speakers included the following people who should be contacted should you wish further information on any of the topics discussed:-

– HBJ Gateley Wareing’s family law partner, Shona Templeton, who set the scene, exploring the changing face of collaborative family law within Scotland;

– Mark Stalker, who is a service manager with Family Mediation South Lanarkshire. A former solicitor, Mark discussed the the impact of the Parenting Apart project throughout South Lanarkshire;

– National Development Manager with Families Need Fathers, Ian Maxwell discussed how fathers can become involved in the collaborative process. I would also add that I met one of Ian’s colleagues, John Forsyth, who is a support and development worker with Families Need Fathers and is contributing greatly to the Scottish family justice system; and

– Stuart Valentine, the Chief Executive of Relationships Scotland, who explained how Parenting Apart fits in to the wider national picture of family support.

Further Information

For further information on Relationships Scotland and their work, see Relationships Scotland’s Blog here, their twitter account here and watch the video below.

If you have any specific queries on family law in Scotland, get in touch via the contact a solicitor form at the top right of this page.