Last year the Government ran a consultation seeking views, particularly from family justice professionals and mediation service providers, on resolving private family disputes earlier through family mediation.


The consultation proposed supporting parents to resolve family matters without court involvement, including pre-court parenting programs and compulsory mediation attempts. Encouraging mediation before court application was another proposal, promoting amicable resolution for individuals involved in family matters. Those avoiding reasonable mediation efforts could face penalties, including covering part/all of the legal costs of the other party.

The Government has now published its response to the consultation.

No compulsory mediation

The central proposal in the consultation was the introduction of the compulsory mediation requirement, in appropriate cases.

But the Government has decided against introducing such a requirement.

The Government proposed exemptions to mandatory mediation, particularly in cases involving domestic abuse, seeking feedback on the proposal.

However, many respondents to the consultation were concerned that the proposed exemptions would not be enough to adequately protect survivors of domestic abuse from being required to attend mediation when it is not suitable or safe for them. An example of this is where they do not fully realise that they have experienced domestic abuse.

In the light of these responses the Government has decided not to introduce the requirement “at this time”.

Mediation bolstered 

The Government is enhancing mediator roles in dispute resolution by improving domestic abuse screening and mediator training.

The Government aims to encourage mediators to provide child-inclusive mediation and increase the uptake of this service among families. One barrier to this which was mentioned in response to the consultation was that some mediators have been unable to apply for the enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, to provide some assurance to families that they are safe and can be trusted to carry out child-inclusive mediation. The Government is therefore working with the Family Mediation Council to develop guidance for mediators to help them access this service and ensure they can apply for the enhanced DBS check. They aim to boost child-inclusive mediation by providing guidance, ensuring a safe and secure process for families and mediators.

The Government pledges ongoing support for the Mediation Voucher Scheme, offering £500 towards eligible cases’ mediation costs. By March 2025, the Government’s £23.6 million investment will aid 24,600 families, resolving issues without resorting to court.

Early legal advice for parents 

Many respondents to the consultation considered that the lack of free, publicly funded, family law legal advice was a barrier to early dispute resolution, saying that providing funded access to early legal advice would improve the information available to parents, allowing them to make better informed decisions about their dispute, and potentially leading to improved outcomes for parents and their children.

Government plans pilot for tailored legal advice aiding parents facing challenges in child arrangements, aiming to support effective resolution. The pilot, which the Government plans to launch in specific regions in England and Wales by summer 2024, will seek to demonstrate the benefits of high-quality legal advice for families looking to resolve their issues through the courts and, where court is deemed necessary, better prepare them for the court process.


Government pilot to evaluate impact of funded early legal advice, aiming to expedite dispute resolution and court-based solutions.

Lastly, the Government has announced that it will expand its ‘pathfinder’ courts pilot. Pathfinder courts in Dorset and North Wales pilot an investigative, child-centred approach, reducing adversarial procedures and enhancing support for parties.

The Government says that the pilot will be extended to South-East Wales and Birmingham in April and June 2024 respectively and then, subject to the findings of an evaluation and decisions at the next Spending Review, it intends to roll out the new approach to all courts in England and Wales.  

How can we help?

For further information on how we can help, please see our Family Mediation page.

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information.

It goes without saying that family law-related issues should be resolved by agreement if possible, rather than through the courts. But often the parties need help to reach agreement. This is where family mediation comes in. Family mediation is a voluntary process of assisted negotiation, where an independent, professionally trained, mediator helps couples resolve issues. Family mediation typically involves a number of meetings between the couple and the mediator. So what happens at a mediation meeting?

Before we answer that we should briefly mention another type of meeting related to mediation: the Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting, or MIAM for short.

MIAMs

Before making an application to the court all applicants must first attend a MIAM, unless they are exempt.

The MIAM is a first meeting with a mediator, to explain how mediation works, and to assess whether the case is suitable for mediation. If the case is assessed as being suitable then the couple can decide whether they want it to be referred to mediation.

Essentially, the MIAM aims to inform those considering court action about mediation’s existence and assess its suitability for their case.

What happens at a mediation meeting?

Mediation meetings can involve the couple and the mediator meeting face to face in the same room. They can also take place as an online meeting. It is even possible for the couple to be in separate rooms, if that is preferred.

Exactly what happens at a mediation meeting will vary from one case to another, and will depend upon the type of issue that needs resolution – an issue relating to arrangements for children or an issue relating to finances and property on separation or divorce.


Generally, the mediator assists the couple in identifying agreed matters and resolving issues that require further discussion and resolution.

The meetings are entirely confidential.

Note that even if the mediator is a lawyer they will not provide legal advice, save to indicate in general whether a proposed solution is likely to be approved by the court.

The mediator will however indicate to the parties when they might need independent advice upon a particular matter. (Note that the parties can take legal advice at any time during the mediation process.)

In the course of the meetings the mediator will seek to ensure that both parties have an equal say, and that any proposed solution is fair to both parties and any children involved.

If the meetings lead to an agreement, the mediator documents it and provides each party with a copy. Note that the agreement is not legally binding, but can be incorporated into a binding court order, if appropriate.

And if the mediation is not entirely successful, the mediator will provide the couple with a written summary of the outstanding matters, and what action the couple should take next.

How long does mediation take?

There are no hard and fast rules as to how long the mediation process will take. The duration depends on the specific case, including the issues and their complexity.

In general, however, the process might typically involve three to five meetings, each lasting between one and two hours.

The meetings will usually be spread over a number of weeks, although more complex cases may take several months.

Note that mediation concerning finances and property may take longer, as the couple will need to make full disclosure of their finances before the mediation can proceed, so that both parties and the mediator know exactly what is involved.

For more information about family mediation, and how we can help, visit our family mediation page.

How can we help?

For further information on how we can help, please see our Expertise pages.

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information.

Relationship breakdown will obviously usually mean that the parties will no longer have anything to do with one another (save, perhaps, for any ongoing maintenance liability).

But where the parties have children, and especially where the children are dependent, they will still have to deal with each other, to sort out arrangements for the children.

And of course the parties may enter into new relationships, which can add an extra dimension to those arrangements.Can my ex demand to meet my new partner

Co-parenting with new partners

If a parent enters into a relationship with a new partner then it is obviously likely that the children will come into contact with the new partner, especially if the parent and their new partner live together.

Seeing their parent with someone else may obviously be upsetting for some children (although many take it in their stride). Introducing children to the new partner should therefore be approached with care, perhaps on a gradual basis, rather than treating it as a ‘fait accompli’.

And consideration should also be given to the other parent, who may understandably have concerns about the children meeting and spending time with the new partner.

If possible the parent with the new partner should discuss those concerns with the other parent, and reassure them that the children will come to no harm.

Of course, it isn’t always possible for separated parents to discuss and agree matters in an amicable fashion. In such a situation there are two common scenarios that may occur: the other parent may want to stop their ex introducing the children to their new partner, and they may even demand to meet the new partner.

Can I legally stop my ex introducing the children to their new partner?

As mentioned above, the other parent may have genuine concerns about their children meeting and spending time with their ex’s new partner. Those concerns may be just general worry about the effect upon the children, or may be specific concerns, based upon information they have about the new partner, or what the children have told them.

If the parent is sufficiently worried they could apply to the court for an order restricting the children’s contact with the new partner, but this should really be seen as a last resort.

They should first try to discuss their concerns with the other parent, and could also consider resolving the matter via mediation.

If they do go to court they should understand that they will have to prove to the court that the children have suffered, or are likely to suffer, ongoing harm by having contact with the new partner. Merely being upset when they first meet the new partner is unlikely to be sufficient, as the court generally takes the view that if a new partner is a part of the parent’s life, then they should be a part of the children’s lives also.

Can my ex demand to meet my new partner?

Of course, simply not knowing the new partner can naturally cause the other parent to worry about their children’s welfare. They may therefore want to be reassured by meeting the new partner.

This can be a good idea, provided of course that all parties are happy to meet, but what if they are not? Can the other parent force a meeting?

The simple answer is that they can’t, and even the court will not force a meeting to take place.

However, again if the other parent’s concerns are sufficiently serious for the matter to go to court then the court will want to check that the new partner poses no threat of harm to the children. This could be done, for example, by the court appointing a welfare officer to investigate, and the welfare officer meeting the new partner.

How can we help?

For further information on how we can help you, please see the Child Arrangements page.

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information

Back in April we reported that the government was consulting on proposals to introduce mandatory mediation for separating couples.

Governmental mandatory mediation proposalsAnd now two very important organisations have published their responses to the consultation: the Law Society, the professional association that represents solicitors in England and Wales, and Resolution, the association of family lawyers.

Before we look at the responses, let us briefly remind ourselves of exactly what the government is proposing.

The government’s proposals

The government is proposing that separating couples should make a “reasonable attempt to mediate”, before they go to court.

If a party does not make a reasonable attempt to mediate, without a reasonable excuse (for example where there has been domestic abuse), then the court will penalise them, possibly by ordering them to contribute towards the other party’s costs.

The proposals were subject to a government consultation, seeking views on the proposals from “organisations representing separating families, family justice professionals, mediation service providers, other dispute resolution service providers and individuals who have live experience of the family courts or mediation.”

The consultation period ended on the 15th June. The government has not yet published the outcome of the consultation, but the Law Society and Resolution have published their responses.

The responses to the proposals

In their response the Law Society say that: “Divorcing couples should not be subject to mandatory mediation, as putting barriers in place to attending court is likely to deny access to justice”.

The Society therefore called for mediation not to be mandatory in divorce cases, saying that no form of dispute resolution should be mandatory – attendance must be voluntary for it to be effective, and that complex cases in particular may not be suitable for mediation.

It also called for legal aid to be made available for early advice, which could mean that there was more chance of early settlement.

Resolution made similar points in its response.

It said that whilst mediation helps and will continue to help many families who choose to use it, it is not right for everyone, and should not be forced upon anyone.

Resolution also pointed out that there are other forms of out of court dispute resolution (such as Collaborative Family Law), which need to be considered and funded.

And Resolution made the same point as the Law Society about access to early legal advice, a representative saying: “What is … sadly lacking [from the government’s proposals] is that there is no funding for any initial legal advice. That is a message that we have been making … now for around eight years and we feel very strongly that without that initial funding for legal advice, unfortunately these proposals are going to fail.”

Should we take these responses seriously?

There will, of course, be many who will dismiss these responses as merely attempting to protect vested interests. After all, both the Law Society and Resolution represent lawyers and obviously lawyers will not want to lose business by having more cases settled out of court.

But the responses should not be dismissed so easily. For a start, many of the members of both organisations are mediators as well as lawyers, who may well gain as much business as they may lose as a result of mediation becoming compulsory.

And anyway most family lawyers have long been recommending mediation to clients in appropriate cases.

And further to that, all family lawyers will endeavour to resolve cases by agreement wherever possible, even when mediation is not attempted. The vast majority of family cases are resolved by agreement without going to court, largely through the efforts of family lawyers.

And family lawyers know what they are talking about. They spend their careers in the ‘front line’ of family cases. No one knows better than they do about the best way to find out of court family law solutions.

Will these responses make any difference?

Even if the responses are taken seriously the big question, of course, is: will they make any difference to the government’s plans?

The government is clearly enthusiastic about the proposals, and no wonder if it believes that they will save money.

And the government’s enthusiasm for mediation is not limited to its use in the family justice system. It has just announced that mediation is to become part of the court process for small civil claims valued up to £10,000.

Both the Law Society and Resolution make good points. But whether their points will be enough to deflect the government from its chosen path is another matter.

How can we help?

For a more in-depth understanding of how mediation works and what mediation actually is, please visit our How does family mediation work page.

Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediation, divorce law, child-law and arbitration. Please contact us for further information.

Obviously, it is always better if family issues are resolved by agreement, and one way of achieving this is via mediation, whereby a trained mediator will endeavour to help the parties to reach agreement.

Mediation is an important tool in reaching out of court solutions, but until now it has been entirely voluntary. True, before making an application to court all applicants must first attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (‘MIAM’), unless they are exempt, but that is merely a meeting with a mediator to explain how mediation works, and to assess whether the case is suitable for mediation. Whether the parties then go to mediation is up to them.

So, while the answer to the question “is mediation compulsory in family law?” is currently no, family mediation may soon be made compulsory.

Government Consultation About Compulsory Mediation

On the 23rd of March the Ministry of Justice, Cafcass and the Lord Chancellor announced proposals to introduce mandatory mediation for separating couples.

The proposals will mean that separating couples will have to attempt to agree their arrangements for children and finances through a mediator, with court action being a last resort.

Parties who do not make a “reasonable attempt to mediate” could face financial penalties in any subsequent court proceedings (presumably it would be for the judge to decide whether a reasonable attempt has been made). The penalties would likely take the form of orders requiring the party who failed to make a reasonable effort to mediate to contribute towards the legal costs of the other party.

The government says that “It is expected the move could help up to 19,000 separating families resolve their issues away from the courtroom, while also reducing backlogs, easing pressures on the family courts and ensuring the justice system can focus on the families it most needs to protect.”

The proposals are subject to a government consultation, seeking views on the proposals from “organisations representing separating families, family justice professionals, mediation service providers, other dispute resolution service providers and individuals who have lived experience of the family courts or mediation.”

The consultation runs until the 15th of June, and can be found here.

Meanwhile, the government’s Family Mediation Voucher Scheme will be extended until April 2025, backed by an additional £15 million in funding. The scheme provides separating couples with vouchers worth up to £500 to help them solve disputes through mediation, and has so far supported over 15,300 families.

Mediation isn’t always appropriate

The government acknowledges that mediation is not appropriate in all family cases. It is therefore proposing that there be exemptions to the requirement for compulsory mediation.

The exact exemptions are yet to be decided, but the consultation mentions cases where there are concerns over domestic abuse, cases where there are child protection issues, and urgent cases.

But will there also be some cases that don’t fall within those exemptions but are still unsuitable for mediation?

Take, for example, a child arrangements case in which one parent alleges that the other has alienated the children against them. In such a case it could be argued that mediation would literally be a waste of time, further delaying resolution of the issues. Surely, it would be far better for the court to deal with the case as soon as possible?

On the other hand, it can be surprising what cases are resolved by agreement, as any experienced family lawyer will attest. Sometimes, the parties are so entrenched with their opposing views that it seems impossible, and yet it does happen. Shouldn’t mediation therefore be ‘given a chance’ in all non-exempt cases?

But what if neither party wants to go to mediation? Should they still be forced to do so? And if they then both fail to make a reasonable attempt to mediate, how are they to be penalised?

And then there is the argument, raised by Resolution among others, that mediation works best when it is done voluntarily, and that forcing parents to choose a route that may not be suitable for them is not an appropriate course of action.

Clearly, the introduction of compulsory mediation is a controversial idea, and there is likely to be considerable argument both for and against it. If you feel that you have a useful contribution to make towards the discussion you can respond to the consultation here.

How We Can Help

Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors and are recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediation, divorce, child law, and arbitration. For expert advice, please contact the team.

 

Ian Walker Divorce Lawyer Photo headshotHow can I find a good divorce lawyer?

I have been a Divorce Solicitor/Divorce Lawyer since I qualified as a solicitor in 1992.

In 2013 I founded my own practice. We now have offices in Exeter, Honiton, Taunton and Weston-Super-Mare. We also have consulting rooms in Bridgwater and Yeovil. We will shortly be opening a further office in Torquay.

When I founded Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors it was just myself and a computer. In the space of a little over six years we have grown into a team of nine divorce lawyers/family solicitors. We are now one of the most experienced family law teams in Devon and Somerset.

When marriages break down

The breakdown of a marriage is a sad and emotionally challenging time. Each of the couple will have entered the marriage with the best of intentions. Each will have hoped that the marriage would last. Sadly, too many marriages end in failure.

There are all sorts of reasons for this. Couples grow apart or find that over time they become incompatible. Sometimes one of the couple will become abusive. Sometimes the pressures of life are just too much, and each will pull in different directions.

It is often the case that one of the couple concludes that the marriage has broken down irretrievably before the other. They may have grieved the end of the relationship and made plans to move on before the other is aware. This can mean that when the difficulties come to a head that one of the couple is in a very different place emotionally to the other.

It is not unusual for one or both of the couple to have feelings of anger, betrayal, sadness, grief, depression at the breakdown of a marriage. One or both may well have anxieties about what the future will hold.

Child doing jigsaw - divorce lawyerIf the situation is difficult for the adults, it is often much worse for their children. At least the adults have some control over what happens next. Children are often caught in the middle between parents and have their own uncertainties and anxieties about what the future will hold and why mum and dad no longer get on.

The importance of a good divorce lawyer

Divorce has legal implications. Marriage is a legally binding contract. Ending the marriage involves obtaining a court order – the Decree Absolute. Achieving a clean break or other financial settlement also involves obtaining a court order. These court orders should be obtained.

Where child arrangements are concerned a court order can also be obtained to determine what the child arrangements should be. Such a court order will give certainty, but it is not the best outcome.

The best outcome for children and their parents is that the child arrangements should be agreed between their parents and that these should be reasonable and flexible and where both parents support the child’s relationship with the other parent and the parents work together and communicate well. This is often easier said than done.

When someone chooses a divorce lawyer – they want to achieve fairer outcomes and they do not want to make a difficult situation worse.

A good divorce lawyer should be able to assist their clients to make good choices and to help support them through a difficult time in their lives in a way which is as painless as possible – both emotionally and financially.

What do I need to look out for when finding a good divorce lawyer?

I would say that there are several things that you need to think about when looking for a good divorce lawyer.

Negotiation skills

Going to court over child arrangements or about financial arrangements can be very expensive and never helped anyone get on better with each other.

Most financial settlements are achieved through negotiation. The best arrangements for children are also achieved through negotiation. Therefore, you should look for a solicitor who is able to demonstrate their negotiation skills. Ways in which this can objectively be demonstrated are by the solicitor being qualified as a mediator or collaborative family lawyer or if they work within a team where good negotiation is clearly embedded in the firm’s DNA.

Negotiation choices

It is not good enough in this day and age simply to say that our default position is to make an application to the court and to negotiate – essentially at the door of the court.

In financial cases, negotiation cannot really start until financial disclosure has taken place – but there are choices about how the negotiation might be conducted. The skill of the lawyer is to assist their clients in finding the best process for them.

Mediation

We are supportive of mediation. This involves referring the client to third party mediator (or one of our mediators acting neutrally for the couple) and providing legal advice in support of the mediation process. With mediation the couple will negotiate themselves – but are supported in doing so.

This is a good option but is not the right thing for everyone. Sometimes one of the couple will find the other overpowering and sometimes one or both of the couple will have difficulty saying yes to what is a reasonable final outcome (in part because they are in the habit of saying no to each other). Mediation works best where there is a confidence in each of the couple and they understand what they need and what the other needs and are prepared to make compromises.

Our team includes experienced mediators in both myself and my colleague David Howell Richardson. We encourage the use of mediation by the rest of our team.

Divorce lawyers meetingCollaborative family law

A better process is in our view collaborative family law. This is an out-of-court process – because the couple make a commitment to negotiate solutions without going to court. The collaborative law process proceeds through a series of confidential meetings. The core participants are the couple and their collaboratively trained lawyers. Additional professionals such as accountants or financial planners or child consultants can be brought into the meetings and work with the couple parallel to the meetings in order to assist the problem-solving approach. We think that this is the best process. Both of the couple are supported by their solicitor and disagreements between professionals can be talked through so that the couple are better able to make pragmatic decisions.

Within our team, both myself and my colleague Fiona Griffin are collaborative family lawyers. I was one of the first to train as a collaborative lawyer in Devon and Somerset back in 2005.

Young girl surfing in DevonFinding the best outcome

Progressive practice means recognising that negotiations sometimes don’t get all the way to a final agreement. However, combining mediation or collaborative family law with arbitration is away to bridge any final gaps. Arbitration is another form of dispute resolution where a couple choose to instruct a private judge called an arbitrator to determine any outstanding issues in a way that is legally binding. This process fits well with mediation and collaborative family law.

Both mediation and collaborative family law are talking solutions. This is particularly important when there are children. The best outcome for children require parents to continue to talk to each other. Negotiating and agreeing solutions together should improve outcomes for a couple’s children.

Talking processes can be difficult at first – because of underlying emotions and a lack of trust, but the rewards of success should normally mean that these difficulties should be embraced and overcome (which is why in our view collaborative law is better – because the couple are better supported)

Experience

Experience is important – but is not the be all and end all. Practitioners can get into bad habits or become set in their ways. They may have been reluctant to embrace mediation or collaborative family law because they think that court-based solutions are the only solutions.

A younger solicitor with less year’s post qualification experience may be more committed to progressive practice than an older solicitor.

Nothing should be taken for granted. All I can say is that within my team I demand a commitment to progressive practice from everyone.

The divorce puzzle Panel membership

Family law solicitors are accredited by the Law Society and by resolution. Both have robust accreditation schemes. Having a panel membership is a way of demonstrating expertise and competence. These do not necessarily demonstrate a commitment to progressive practice – but they are a factor which should be taken into consideration.

Transparency about costs

The days are long gone when clients should not expect to have a straightforward conversation with their solicitor about costs.

In 2018 the Solicitors Regulation Authority introduced a requirement that solicitors provide some transparency over pricing. The requirements were limited and only applied to a small number of types of work/processes. It is often hard to find the required information on firm’s websites.

We have always been open about our charge rates. We have always published our base charge rates on our website. Few firms do this. We do not understand why there should be any mystery.

We also recognise that as well as transparency clients want pricing choices. We are very open to working to fixed fees and two other pricing options. Getting fixed fees right is important and this is not something that can really be done properly at an initial meeting. This is because until contact is made with the other party – and there is greater clarity over what needs to be done – and what process will be used to try and achieve an outcome – there are too many unknowns. What we can do is commit that as soon as the situation becomes clearer – we will offer a client a range of pricing choices from proceeding based on hourly rates as well as fixed fee choices.

Meeting with a divorce lawyerClient experience and technology

We recognise that the world around us is evolving and the technology through which we deliver our service is better than it was five years ago and much better than it was 10 or 15 years ago.

We have recently adopted a client engagement tool which also sits on our website. This enables clients to provide us with a lot of information prior to their initial meeting with us. In the past the first half-hour of a meeting with a client would have involved asking lots of questions. This time can now be reduced – so that more time can be spent talking about the issues and options from the outset.

This is just one thing that we do. We do however recognise that some clients want to be able to undertake some tasks themselves – in order to keep costs down. We are very happy to have an open discussion with the client about who does what – when it comes to scoping out the work to be undertaken by us.

Another thing that we do is her that we subscribe to the best family law practice support service – which provides us with an extensive library and database and practice support tools which would have been unimaginable (and completely unaffordable) 15 years or so ago.

Whilst we are happy to share some of what we do in a post – there are other things which we will share with a potential client after they have made contact.

But the bottom line is that best practice for service delivery doesn’t stand still and good family law solicitors/good divorce lawyers will move with the times

Prizes and awards

Some firms invest heavily in public relations and enter the ever-increasing number of awards that are around. These awards are not necessarily judged by practitioners or relevant practitioners and certainly there are many firms that don’t enter or don’t have the time to enter.

As our practice has been growing, we have invested our time in other matters which we believe are more worthwhile – such as achieving the Law Society Lexcel Practice Management Accreditation. This is not an award based on a 1000 word also submission but where our practice is independently audited over two or more days to an extensive standard set by the law society. We would take the view that this is a better measure.

Making the choice

Ultimately you need to find someone that you can work with and have a rapport with.

To assist potential clients, know who we are – we have included on our website short video clips so that you have the chance to meet us on video before you meet us in person. We hope this How can I find a good divorce lawyer article has helped with your search.

If you have more questions about how to choose a good divorce solicitor you can see some common FAQ’s over on this page

If you would like to know more about us and to meet one of our team in person then please use the contact form below.


Contact a Good Divorce Lawyer in our team

 

 

Error: Contact form not found.

_MG_5336How successful is family mediation?

It is impossible to know for Non-Legally Aided Mediation. There are no central and independently audited statistics.

What the Legal Aid Agency Mediation statistics show

There are statistics for Legally Aided Mediation though.

The outcomes of legally aided mediations are audited by the Legal Aid Agency. If success is over claimed, the Legal Aid Agency will disallow the success fee that is otherwise paid. If there was a pattern for this happening – then there would be sanctions under the terms of the Legal Aid Contract.

We can therefore say that the Legal Aid Agency statistics are reasonably reliable.

The latest round of statistics have recently been published

Here is a table:Legal Aid Mediation Statistics 2017

The Legal Aid Agency say:

Family mediation can be used to resolve issues to do with children or property and finance following divorce or separation, and the ‘all issues’ category describes mediations which deal with both areas.

The children category consistently accounts for the majority of starts, comprising 64% of all mediation starts in the last year (this information is taken from the more detailed data published alongside this bulletin).

Mediations can either break down or result in an agreement.

Like other areas of mediation, agreements fell following LASPO. They have since stabilised at just over half of pre-LASPO levels (see figure 16).

Mediations in the ‘all issues’ category can reach full agreement, where agreement is reached on all issues, or partial agreement, wherein an agreement has been reached on either children or property and finance, but not both. As such, successful agreements include both partial agreements and full agreements.

Over the last year 62% of all mediation outcomes involved successful agreements. The rate of success varied between different categories of mediation, with the highest proportion of agreements (63%) in the children category (this information is taken from the more detailed data published alongside this bulletin).

What do the figures tell us?

 There is a lot less Legally Aided Mediation taking place than before the legal aid reforms which were supposed to promote mediation: 15000 ish down to around 8000 ish per year (the 2016-2017 were down so far from 2015-2016)

A greater proportion of mediation is about children issues and this is more successful than financial mediation

Success within these figures also includes partially successful. This is most likely to be where children issues have been resolved and financial issues have not.

If around 40% of mediation is unsuccessful – the failure rate for financial mediation will be higher – this is because success includes partial success. What this is most likely to mean is a failure to resolve financial issues but that there has been success in resolving child arrangements. As in my experience many couples tend to focus on one area of dispute, resolving children issues when finances are in dispute tends to be more straightforward.

40% failure rate means that nothing has been resolved at all.

The proportion of successful mediation is no better now than before the legal aid changes – why is this? 64% successful in 2006/7, 68% success in 2007/8, 66% success in 2012/13.  Arguably the previous legal aid rules pulled even more contact cases into mediation.

Lets have a look at success rates in more detail…

There are more detailed statistics published Mediation Stats ChartMediation success statitistics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These charts are for the most recent full calendar year.

The overall success rate in finance only mediation is only 54%

When both finances and children issues are considered in mediation financial issues are resolved in only 51% of cases. Children issues are resolved in 60% of those cases.

Points to note/Questions

  • To have a legally aid contract for mediation a mediation service needs to have an experienced mediator working in the service and overseeing its mediators
  • Any mediator can undertake non legally aided mediation. Inexperienced mediators are likely to have higher failure rates.
  • If experienced and quality assessed mediators are more successful at children mediation than simpler financial cases – can we realistically think that they will be any better at more complicated financial cases – with multiple properties and significant pensions and other assets?
  • The normal family mediation model is only moderately successful in simpler financial cases – is it really suited for more complex cases?
  • There are a lot of mediations that break down – where to the cases go… largely to Court…where else can they go? which means the cost of mediation was wasted.
  • is a 54%  success rate for mediation in financial cases acceptable?
  • is a 63-ish% success rate in children cases acceptable? More so than finances certainly.
  • The help that mediation provides in successful cases shouldn’t be underestimated – this is a lot of families assisted to find a better way… but …
  • Couples entering mediation are ones where the couple want to mediate, they want to find solutions, and the mediator has assessed that there is a reasonable prospect of success. The failed cases shouldn’t be regarded as hopeless cases. The hopeless cases will already have been filtered out.

Our View

  • Mediation can be very difficult to set up – clients (often rightly) worry about whether the other is truly willing to negotiate, and sometimes they struggle themselves with the idea that they may have to compromise.
  • Sometimes mediation is undermined by solicitors. For example – I had one recent case as a solicitor where my client agreed resolution in mediation and shook hands – yet the other party’s solicitor immediately sought to renegotiate (despite her client having received advice in support of the mediation process). In the end my client paid some more to avoid litigation costs and because he had had enough. The mediator would count their work as a success – but this didn’t tell the whole story. In another case (financial) , as a mediator; I sent a couple off to get legal advice and a pension report and some legal advice. I was contacted some time later to sign the mediator part of the court application. They hadn’t obtained the pension report, but they had continued (unsuccessfully) negotiation via round table meetings and with counsel. The mediation had not broken down when I had last seen them – so why had they not come back?
  • The traditional family mediation model (mediator and clients in a 3 way meeting – with legal advice between meetings) struggles with financial cases and is best suited to children cases.
  • For financial cases it is often better to involve solicitors – but this means moving to a shuttle model with each team in different rooms. As a mediator who is also a Civil Commercial Mediator the different style of civil mediation is better suited to more complex and involved cases – including where professionals are involved. Involving Solicitors means that the mediation is less likely to unravel afterwards.
  • But no mediation can guarantee success. It cannot – because both sides are free to walk away – that is both a strength and a weakness. The voluntary nature of mediation helps because the couple are choosing to find a solution. It is their commitment. But there can clearly be no guarantees.
  • What can achieve 100% of decisions is going to Court! But this is very expensive and divisive. But Court decisions are not necessarily long term solutions
  • What can also achieve a 100% decisions – but at less cost by combining mediation with arbitration
  • Arbitration is another type of dispute resolution where a private judge (the arbitrator) is engaged. Arbitration is a flexible process which is much quicker than Court. There is a lot about it our website.
  • Under our mediation with arbitration scheme – if a mediated agreement cannot be achieved – then the case moves seamlessly into arbitration where an arbitrator (a private judge) makes a legally binding decision. But the process will be less divisive and perhaps 1/3 of the cost of a court process and much quicker – there is much more about all this on my website at https://walkerfamilylaw.co.uk/solicitor-led-family-mediation/mediation-arbitration-scheme/ Many of the benefits of mediation are retained because the couple are also choosing together to arbitrate if the mediation fails. It is therefore a voluntary process with a binding outcome. This has to be the way forward… combining the benefits of negotiation with the certainty that there can be a quick outcome if the mediation fails.
  • But the better model for mediation for finance cases is the civil model – which is purer and less emotive negotiation which involves solicitors better.

Is a 54% -ish success rate for financial mediation acceptable? You can see why people are wary – particularly when money is tight – but Court is rarely the answer. We think that our combination of mediation with arbitration provides the best option.

If you want to see the legal aid data look here https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/legal-aid-statistics-october-to-december-2016

Should clients be put off  trying mediation?

No – remember overall 62% of cases were resolved. Resolution would have saved clients a lot of cost and should also have preserved or improved family relationships.

But – prospective clients need to be realistic – mediation is no magic wand.

For mediation to work, clients need to fully commit to the process and deliver on commitments made during the process. They must be prepared to have some give and take.

Perhaps also clients need to be more selective in their choice of mediator?

What are the mediators skills and background. Personally I always refer my clients to specific experienced mediators who are either practicing solicitors or who are non-practicing solicitors. But – I think my model of linking my mediation practice to a panel of arbitrators who are known to me is the way to go (although unfortunately legal aid is not available for arbitration – although if the matters still unresolved at the end of a mediation are reasonably narrow then a paper based arbitration can be inexpensive and certainly cheaper than the alternative)

Me – Family Law Solicitor/Family Mediator/Civil Mediator/Arbitrator

I have been a Family Mediator since 1996 and am a supervisor of other mediators. I am accredited by the Family Mediation Council and the Law Society. I am also a Civil/Commercial Mediator and member of the Devon and Somerset Mediation Panel. I am a Family Law Arbitrator (Children Scheme) via IFLA and I am a practicing Solicitor with Accreditations via the Law Society and Resolution.

In other words I am quadruple qualified.

This means I am aware of the pros and cons of all relevant practice models and am well placed to comment.

I have been undertaking legally aided mediation for nearly 20 years. I have my own Solicitors practice based in Honiton but covering Taunton and Exeter. Our Mediation with Arbitration scheme is portable to anywhere within a reasonable travel distance…

But, all this means that I understand how the different styles of practice work – and don’t work – and perhaps also how they can best work together…

Avoiding disputes about Christmas contact or finding solutions

As an experienced family law solicitor I know that Christmas is not a happy time that everyone. Indeed it can be very lonely and depressing. Some parents are for various reasons unable to spend time with their children on the main days of the Christmas holiday or even at all.

Family disputes in the run-up to Christmas

In the run-up to Christmas we deal with a surge in cases where separated parents are in dispute over the arrangements through which children will spend time with each parent over the Christmas holiday. Here are some hopefully helpful tips.

Tips to avoid disputes about the arrangements for children in the run-up to Christmas

(more…)

Rights of Women

Rights of Women is a women’s voluntary organisation committed to informing, educating and empowering women concerning their legal rights.

The organisation is based in London and was founded in 1975. They seek to influence policy by undertaking original research, preparing responses to policy documents from Government and other sources. Rights of Women  organise conferences on women’s rights, and hold public meetings. They want women’s voices heard at every stage of public policy formulation.

In addition Rights of Women  offer free confidential legal advice to women on through their own advice line. Their website contains a lot of useful information and a link can be found here; Link to Rights of Women Website

Challenging the rules restricting Legal Aid

Rights of Women were recently successful in being granted permission to challenge the evidence requirements often referred to as the ‘domestic violence gateway’ to legal aid in many private family law cases.

The Law Society has supported their challenge (brought by the Public Law Project on their behalf) over the lawfulness of Government changes to legal aid which are preventing victims of domestic abuse from getting legal aid for family cases, even when it is clear there has been violence, or there is an ongoing risk of violence. Rights of Women argue that this is not what parliament intended.

A full hearing is expected before the end of the year

(more…)

Are we the right Family Law Solicitors or Family Mediators for you?

What follows is a short piece which formed the basis of our Advert in East Devon’s Midweek Herald Newspaper in January 2014.

We regularly advertise in the Midweek Herald because it is a free newspaper that is delivered to homes in Honiton, Seaton, Axminster, Colyton, Beer and Ottery St Mary. It can also be found in Sidmouth. Our main office is in Honiton, although we are also able to see clients by appointment at our branch offices in Exeter and Taunton, so the Midweek Herald is a natural place to advertise. As an East Devon resident, Ian has been reading the Midweek Herald for quite a number of years.

Family Law and Mediation Experts in East Devon

Ian Walker has been a specialist Family Law Solicitor since 1992 and a Family Mediator since 1996. Ian has worked for Solicitors Practices recognised as amongst the best in the South West. Ian has a long commitment to good Practice and has served as a Member of the Family Law Committee of the Law Society, which promotes good practice and Law Reform. (more…)