More free family mediation: Government press release

More free family mediation: Government press release

The government have today issued a press release announcing their plans to make family mediation more freely available to separating couples.

At the bottom is a link to the press release. I have however cut and pasted the press release so that you can read it here.

Currently when one party is eligible for legal aid for mediation then legal aid pays for the mediator to have an initial meeting with the other party to discuss whether mediation will be a process which will be of assistance to both. The idea has been that the non-legally aided party will be so inspired that they will be happy to pay their own share of mediation.

Unfortunately many are unable to get past the idea that mediation is not going to work because the other party is not really willing to negotiate. Unfortunately this means that many potentially viable mediations do not get off the ground. It can be difficult for a party/parent to recognise the value in mediation without giving it a try.

Also where the non-legally aided person has a limited budget it is quite understandable that they will choose to spend the money that would be their cost of the first mediation session on paying the court fee and making an application to the court for an order. If they apply to the court they will know that ultimately a decision is likely to be made by someone.

What has been announced today is a plan for the government to pay through legal aid for the first actual joint mediation meeting with both of the couple as well as both of the initial assessment meetings, provided that one of the couple is eligible to receive legal aid. The hope is that the non-legally aided person will then be willing to pay for further sessions if it can be seen that progress can be made.

This is a good plan and should lead to an increase in the uptake of mediation which is excellent news.

In my long experience as both a specialist family solicitor and a specialist mediator I recognise the value of mediation to separating couples and particularly to those who are parents.

My own mediation service at Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation is the only family mediation service with a legal aid contract that is based in East Devon. My office in Honiton is easily accessible to clients in Sidmouth, Seaton, Axminster, Chard, Ottery St Mary and Cullompton as well as surrounding villages. I also regularly use offices in Exeter and in Taunton.

As a solicitor and a mediator I am able to assist my mediation clients to make informed decisions by being able to give them up to date information of a legal nature and by being able to identify legal issues where advice is required and assisting them in accessing legal advice in a way that is focused and best suited to their needs. I am of course also up-to-date on what a court would consider to be a reasonable and fair outcome on issues of finance and children.

The only thing that is lacking from the press release is guidance as to when the changes will actually come into effect! It better be soon, otherwise parties are going to hold off progressing mediation and risk losing momentum and the possibility of setting up a viable mediation process

Couples should avoid confrontational courtroom battles and use mediation as more free sessions will be funded by Government, Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes has announced.

Last year nearly two thirds of couples who attended a single mediation session for a child dispute reached a full agreement. Almost seven out of every ten couples who opted for mediation reached an agreement.

The announcement of a single mediation session for both parties if one of them is already legally aided is the latest stage of sweeping reforms to improve the family justice system and follows recommendations made by the independent Mediation Task Force.

The recommendations the Government are taking forward include:

  • Funding ‘one single mediation session for everyone’, if one of the parties is already legally aided. (At present only the legally aided party can have the session for free, meaning there is a cost for the other member of the couple, which can deter them from taking part)
  • Setting up an advisory group of experts to improve practice and make sure mediation is focussed on the best outcomes for any children involved
  • Reviewing future Legal Aid Agency (LAA) contracts with mediation providers to improve service
  • Exploring options for reforming the management of the mediation sector
  • Expanding the ongoing campaign to increase awareness of mediation and legal help for mediation, and the availability of legal aid for it.

Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes MP said:

Earlier this year we introduced major reforms to the family justice system to reduce delays and keep families away from court. But this is not the end of the process. Too many families still end up in court locked in confrontational, damaging and expensive court battles.

We know mediation works and we want more people to make use of it. This is why we are announcing today funding for free mediation sessions, improving the advice and information available for couples who are separating.

This announcement comes on the back of the implementation of the most significant family justice system reforms in a generation. The Government is publishing today ‘A Brighter Future for Family Justice’, a document which sets out what has been achieved since the publication of the family justice review.

We are closely monitoring the family justice system and further work is planned over the coming months. This will include an assessment of ways to provide better information and advice for separating parents so that fewer couples use the courts when their disputes can be better resolved by other means.

The Ministry of Justice is also working with judges and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) on a pilot scheme to fund DNA and drug/alcohol tests for cases involving children. The pilot is exploring how expert reports are commissioned, how experts can affect the length and progress of cases and how the quality of expert reports can help the court to reach just and timely decisions.

Notes to Editors

  1. The new mediation funding will be in place for up to three years and will be reviewed every six months.
  2. Since April 2014 there has been a legal requirement for couples to go to an initial mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) before they can take their case to court – to see if it can be resolved without the need to go to court. This does not apply in certain circumstances, for example in cases involving domestic violence.
  3. Mediation and legal advice to support mediation is already paid for by legal aid for anyone who meets the qualifying criteria.
  4. The price of a MIAM and other mediation sessions is set by the provider. The average price of a mediation funded by legal aid in 2013/14 was £548 for each client.
  5. Further information about mediation, including details of your nearest provider.
  6. The document – ‘A brighter future for Family Justice’ is available here.
  7. Advice about what happens with children when you separate.
  8. For further information contact the Ministry of Justice press office on 0203 334 3536. Follow us @MoJPress
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