Ministry of Justice Calls for Greater Awareness of Family Mediation Services

The falling numbers of divorcing couples who are seeking family mediation services had led to Lord McNally calling on members of the family lawyers group Resolution to work more closely with the Ministry of Justice [ MoJ] to increase awareness of mediation through the media and other channels.

Resolution is a national organisation of family law specialists and other professionals, all of whom have committed to work to resolve family problems in a non-confrontational way. Resolution was previously known as the Solicitors Family Law Association and has 6,500 members who follow a standard code of practice. This code sets out their positive style and non-confrontational way of approaching family breakdown, helping the couple involved to consider the needs of everyone involved, especially any children.

The sad failure of family mediation to capture the imagination of couples is probably in a worse state than had been imagined by McNally. Since changes to the Legal Aid system were put in place in April 2013, the number of couples seeking to use mediation services has been in sharp decline. In the first six months since the changes were introduced the numbers were down 51%.

In terms of absolute numbers, in the six months between April and October 2013, only 20 Legal Aid claims for help with mediation services were made. Under the previous system, Legal Aid money was enough to almost cover mediation work, but now people are only entitled to a single payment of between £150 and £350. This has in turn led to a drastic reduction in the involvement of family lawyers.

Many of the referrals to the mediation services in the past have come directly from solicitors, who were the first point of contact for divorcing couples. Now that legal aid is more limited, fewer couples are seeking legal advice for their divorce, and this is in turn leading to fewer people being referred on to mediation.

Many people involved in mediation suspect that the Ministry of Justice may have a hidden agenda to stop lawyers getting involved in sorting out divorce disputes altogether, and it seems the decreasing mediation figures support this theory. The MoJ have also recently announce that they want to make family mediation compulsory for any couple seeking to divorce. Although this may sound quite radical, current guidelines state that couples should be referred to mediation and assessment hearings before beginning court proceedings, and only the person applying for the divorce can be forced to go to the hearing.

Experts working in the field believe that forcing couples to come together with a mediator before commencing court proceedings will not make much of a difference to the numbers of couples in mediation. As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you cannot force it to drink. In order for mediation to be successful, both partners have to be committed to resolving their difficulties and willing to reach an agreement, so compelling people to attend mediation often works in a negative manner. Mediation is only successful in resolving family issues in a minority of cases; out of the 75,000 mediation referrals made between 2012 and 2013, only 12% ended with a successful negotiation.

Legal Aid is also of critical important to the whole mediation process. This is evident from the same figures, as out of the 75,000 total referrals made, 62,000 came directly from family lawyers who were obliged to refer their clients on to the mediation services.

The entire system is a confused mess, which is borne out by the statement by McNally to the members of Resolution. The MoJ faces a long battle to raise public awareness of mediation services and how they can be used in divorce situation, especially as the Legal Aid cuts begin to bite. In the meantime, both lawyers and clients are left in limbo, unsure of which direction to take

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Frequently asked questions – Divorce finances

What role do the courts play in divorce finances?

The courts will only step in to make rulings over divorce finances if the parties involved apply for it to do so. Therefore, courts normally only become involved when attempts to reach a financial settlement out of court have failed.

If an agreement is made out of court, this takes immediate effect and makes court involvement unnecessary. However, if either party later believes that the agreement is ineffective, they can apply to the court for an order to alter the agreement.

My divorce – is everything split down the middle?

Assets will not necessarily be divided equally, however they are often are after lengthy marriages where both parties have made significant contributions either financially or to family life (e.g. childcare, maintaining the marital home).

Cases where both parties are agreed upon an equal split can be very straightforwardly be sorted out without court intervention, therefore saving time and legal expenses.

Where there are few assets and there are also young children an equal split is likely to be deemed inappropriate. This is because the parent looking after the children will need a greater share of finances.

What is a ‘clean break’ when divorcing?

‘Clean break’ orders can be obtained from the court which stipulate that all financial terms are agreed and no maintenance payments are needed for spousal or child support. Courts will not consider this option if there are insufficient resources for all concerned to subsist.

What does a consent order do?

Consent orders are order made by the courts which essentially make financial arrangements agreed out of court binding and irreversible. Courts require very detailed breakdowns about all assets and liabilities involved in the divorce in order to approve the order. Each party must also provide sworn statements and the court will want to check that they have each received sound legal counsel.

Which financial details need to be disclosed in divorce?

Courts need to know about all assets and liabilities meaning that full disclosure is required. The full list of what the court will expect you to disclose is contained in a sizeable document called Form E, which will be expected to complete. However below is a checklist of some of the main things you will need to to consider:

• Detail all assets held by both you and your spouse

• Work out the equity value of the marital property (its current value minus the amount left on the mortgage)

• Total the value of belongings and savings such as vehicles, deposits etc.

• Value any business you or your spouse own

• Contact insurers to find out the cash value of any endowment policies

• Total any debts held by parties

Live in Salisbury?Need advice on the financial aspects of divorce? Call us today

The financial side of divorce can be very complex which is why it’s so important to have a specialist divorce lawyer on your side. Here at Bonallack & Bishop, our four strong family team are genuine specialists – divorce and family law is all they do.

We have more specialist family law accredition than any other law firm in Salisbury – the team contains two jointly qualified family mediators/lawyers and three fully accredited collaborative lawyers and they are hugely experienced in complicated divorce finances, so, for a free initial advice over the phone and a free 30 minutes appointment on any aspect of family law:

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New Addition to our Divorce Team – Mark Eyles

We are delighted to extend a very warm welcome to solicitor Mark Eyles who has just joined our divorce team – one of three very high quality appointments we have made to brand-new positions in just three months. Mark comes to us specialising in high net worth financial disputes arising out of relationship breakdown and children matters – skills and experience enormously valued by clients and ourselves alike.

Mark is a member of Resolution (the Solicitors Family Law Association as was) and is a fully trained Collaborative Lawyer, following guidelines set down by Resolution in order to resolve cases in a far more amicable, fair and cost effective way that might be possible in court. In addition he is also a Resolution accredited specialist in Children matters. We strongly champion Collaborative Law as an extremely effective, person friendly, approach to dispute resolution and are extremely happy to welcome another expert practitioner aboard.

In addition to his Family Law expertise, Mark also specialises in the peculiar complexities of Police and Armed Forces pension cases and has extensive experience in cases involving company assets, taxation issue and overseas assets. Was that large palette of talents not enough he has also established himself as a very effective advocate in court. We are very aware that divorce solicitors with Mark’s levels experience and specialist knowledge are rare diamonds indeed and feel absolutely certain that his family law clients in the Salisbury and Amesbury area will benefit enormously from having him available to them.