Couples seeking divorce must try mediation first

Couples considering divorce will have to undergo a mediation assessment before going to the courts, the Government has said.

Mediation is not a reconciliation programme, rather it helps couples to divide their assets. Critics say it greases the tracks to divorce.

Large numbers of couples who begin a divorce don’t complete proceedings. Pushing couples into mediation may reduce the number of couples who pull out of the divorce process.

Cost

The plans were announced by Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly and will come into effect from 6 April in England and Wales.

Under the new proposals couples will have to have at least one mediation awareness session before they can go to the courts.

Such sessions reportedly cost between £40 and £70. The new proposal has been agreed with the Judiciary.

Failure

In 1996 the Conservative Government introduced its Family Law Bill that promoted mediation.

But following an intervention by CARE and The Christian Institute the Bill was amended to give couples the option of counselling to save their marriage.

A pilot programme giving options to couples found that mediation was less popular than marriage counselling or using a lawyer.

The mediation plans had not worked out and the incoming Labour Government decided not to implement the legislation.

Study

The new plans announced this week do not require a change in legislation. Cases which involve domestic abuse or child protection issues will be exempt from the mediation programme and the sessions will also not apply to couples not planning to contest their separation terms in court.

Legal aid will also no longer be available for divorce cases but will be for mediation sessions, under plans published last year.

In May last year the Coalition’s Programme for Government document said it would “conduct a comprehensive review of family law in order to increase the use of mediation”.

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