Newcastle’s Top Divorce and Family Lawyer, Joanne Major of Major Family Law, comments in the Journal:

A NORTH East law firm is among those paving the way with a new initiative set to revolutionise how services are offered to separating families., run by social enterprise Advantage Resolution Ltd, brings lawyers and family mediators together to offer clients all-round assistance at an affordable price.

The initiative – the brainchild of trained mediator Marc Lopatin – is being launched on January 2, known as Divorce Day, with a group of firms around five cities participating. In the region, the founder member is Major Family Law in Ponteland, and it is hoped many more will come on board throughout 2014.

It is estimated around 300,000 UK families separate each year, and the cost of using a family lawyer to negotiate a resolution for contested issues will usually cost the client over £5,000. Family mediation can therefore prove cost-effective.

The option is also considerably quicker and enjoys a high success rate.

The only problem, therefore, has been that many people remain unaware of what mediators do, and, as such, they have historically relied on Government policy to provide referrals from publicly funded divorce lawyers. The connection, however, was severed in April 2013 when legal aid was removed from divorce lawyers for most private family matters.

Lopatin’s “missing middle” of lawyer- supported mediation is based on a simple structure involving two family lawyers and a mediator, offering an integrated approach that ends in a legally binding settlement.

It means the cost of legal advice and drafting documents can be easily fixed, effectively capping the cost of a full dispute resolution service at considerably less than £5000.

Joanne Major, of Major Family Law, said: “Family lawyers are just too expensive for most separating families living in the region. This has to change. People need legal advice at a time of divorce or separation because the law has a say in what happens next.

“Lawyer-supported mediation gives lawyers like myself an overdue means of making ourselves more affordable on fixed fee terms. Fixed fee legal advice was very unusual in family law circles, but now there’s simply no excuse. Using lawyer-supported mediation, I can fix my fees according to the issues involved and the client’s financial means.