New mediation rules a flawed step in the right direction

News Release

05 Apr 2011

Embargoed for: Wednesday 6 April 2011

New rules on mediation for separating couples that come into force today (6 April) are broadly welcome, but contain worrying flaws because the Government has acted in indecent haste, said family law association Resolution.

Under the changes – first announced by Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly in February – before making an application to court couples must first attend a meeting with a mediator to learn about mediation.

David Allison, Chair of Resolution, said: “Mediation is a hugely valuable option for some separating couples, so increased awareness of it as a non-court option is good news. But the Government has rushed headlong into these changes in an unplanned way, which has led to some worrying flaws.

“Anyone can set themselves up as a mediator and the lack of a guarantee of the quality of mediators could leave some couples who lack a solicitor’s advice ending up in the hands of unregulated or untrained, rogue mediators. There may also be a shortage of properly trained mediators given the new demand.”

Resolution, which works for a non-adversarial approach to family disputes, says that other non-court options, including collaborative law, parenting information programmes and solicitor negotiation, should all form part of any information session on non-court options.

A survey conducted at Resolution’s national conference last weekend revealed that family lawyers were unanimous that the reforms didn’t go far enough and that separating families should be able to access information about all the different ways they can resolve their differences not just mediation.

“Mediation is not suitable in all cases, and the best option will depend on individual circumstances. We should also remember that for some couples court is the right option, including when there is domestic abuse, intimidation or an imbalance of financial power. Mediation is a voluntary process and separating couples must both be willing to try it for it to have a chance of being successful,” said David Allison.

The changes also come against the background of potential cuts to legal aid, which Resolution fears could create devastating consequences for families and children, and spiraling costs for taxpayers. Under these cuts, mediation will be the only legal aid funded option for separating families, even though it is not always appropriate.

“The Government’s rushed changes to family law seem motivated by a desire to steer people away from professional legal advice. This is misguided, because a good solicitor will always discuss mediation and other non-court approaches with clients – which is one reason why 90 per cent of parents currently settle out of court,” said David Allison.

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Notes to editors

  1. The decision to introduce mediation information meetings was taken ahead of publication of the Family Justice Review panel’s interim report on 31st March 2011.
  2. Resolution is a group of over 5,500 family lawyers in England and Wales. Established 26 years ago, it promotes a non-confrontational, constructive approach to resolving family disputes. To find out more, visit http://www.resolution.org.uk/.
  3. Resolution’s 300 trained mediators will be able to continue to carry out mediation assessments. By the end of 2011, a further 180 of the association’s members will have completed training as mediators.
  4. A survey of attendees at Resolution’s National Conference revealed that:
  5. 100% agreed with the statement that “mediation is a great way for couples to solve their differences, but it isn’t suitable for all families”
  6. 100% agreed that “separating families need information about all the different ways they can resolve their differences not just mediation. They should be able to access parenting information, information about collaborative law, arbitration and court”.