Article from the North East Times

Following the government’s announcement earlier this year that legal aid will be cut in family cases, the profession braced itself for yet another change last month when the new Family Proceedings Rules came into force. The rules are an attempt to consolidate procedure in family proceedings across all levels of court, but they have been criticised by many for being rushed and ill-conceived.

Arguably the hottest topic of debate resulting from the new rules is the requirement that parties involved in family disputes must now take steps to arrange mediation before court proceedings can be issued.

If either of the parties is unwilling to participate in mediation or if the sessions are simply unsuccessful, court proceedings can then be issued.  There are also certain circumstances where a referral to mediation will not be required, such as cases where there is domestic abuse or where the application is for care proceedings involving a child.

According to figures published by the National Audit Office the cost of mediation per client is roughly £535, compared with £2,823 for court costs and mediation was found to resolve disputes quicker than litigated proceedings with the average case being resolved in 110 days, compared to 435 days for court cases.  It is therefore hoped that by making mediation a requirement, couples may resolve disputes promptly and with less expense.

But is mediation the miracle cure? Only time will tell…

Mediation is not for everyone.  Most couples who issue court proceedings do not do so on a whim and proceedings are a last resort where negotiation has already failed. In those circumstances it is likely that many couples will be skeptical as to how mediation will work when other avenues have failed and particularly when a case involves complex issues such as pension provision or business interests, which require specialist legal advice.

It is also reasonable to anticipate that where mediation fails, or is unsuitable, it will have already taken a number of weeks to reach that conclusion.  By the time an application is made to court many couples could be looking at a delay of months before they even set foot in court for a first hearing.