Mediation receives ministerial backing
Divorce cases overwhelm courts
The costs of divorces are substantial. In terms of legal expenses, couples who are divorcing are often shocked how much those fees can be. Indeed, they can escalate exponentially in very long court proceedings. Moreover, there are also the social costs to children and other members of the family who may even suffer from stress because of the divorce. Courtrooms across the United Kingdom are filled with divorce cases and, in the major cities of the nation, divorce hearings are becoming one of the predominant areas of business. In our major cities, courts can hardly cope with the volume of divorce cases that they need to deal with.
In these troubled times, there is no doubt that an alternative to court battles over divorces is required. One of these alternatives is mediation. Mediation is a process whereby divorcing couples, working with a skilled mediator, work together to resolve their issues and come to a joint agreement that they can both accept and can sign up to. This can cover aspects of a divorce, such as finances and childcare arrangements. Mediation is a much less confrontational process than taking the divorce battle to court. Couples are encouraged to discuss their issues together.
Simon Hughes praises “excellent” mediation
As a cheaper, and more mature, alternative to divorce proceedings in court, it is little wonder that government officials are looking to mediation as a different approach. Indeed, the Minister for Family Justice, Simon Hughes MP, is recommending mediation as an alternative to the damage that court proceedings are causing. He described mediation services as “excellent’ and considered that mediation was a particularly good way of protecting the interests of children. His view was that more people should use mediation rather than attend court. This is not a limited view within government and many other government officials are in favour of mediation.
Of course, Mr. Hughes is not just concerned with family stress when advocating mediation. He is also sharply aware of the many millions of pounds that go into legal aid services, some of which is used to deal with divorce. His position is backed up in law. Under the provisions of the Children and Families Act it is essential that couples should consider mediation before undertaking court proceedings. There are a few exceptions to this, for example when domestic violence is involved, but otherwise mediation is seen as the most viable alternative. This law means that if a court order is applied for, the couple need to first attend a MIAMS (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) which will assess their suitability for mediation. MIAMS meetings are a prelude to the mediation process. At MIAMS, one of two outcomes is possible. Firstly, that it may be decided that the couple are not suitable for mediation. The example of domestic violence has already been provided, but it must be noted that such cases are rare. The other alternative is that the couple progress to full mediation. In this case they will undergo a series of meetings with a trained mediator which will enable them to discuss the issues which are relevant to their situation.
Mediation shown to be better than courts
Last year, nearly 20,000 people were successful in using family mediation services to resolve their divorce. There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that mediation is quicker and cheaper than court proceedings for divorce. It also suggests that couples who use mediation are less likely to return to the legal system in future to resolve problems. Mediation is also much more transparent than instructing lawyers, and other legal professionals, to work on a divorce case. The process has a clear time frame and can be obtained at a fixed cost.