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I was interested to read a press release from The Ministry of Justice, which was published on 28 March 2014. This press release identified the ten “busiest” divorce courts in England and Wales, based on the number of divorce petitions issued at those courts. According to the statistics, Leeds was the 8th busiest divorce court. These statistics did not delve into the number of proceedings issued in relation to financial matters or children matters, which many people consider form part of the divorce proceedings as they are often ancillary to divorce. The main focus of the press release was the benefits of mediation as a way to avoid those type of proceedings.

Mediation is not something that can be used for the divorce process itself. It may be able to assist where the parties cannot agree who will petition for divorce or what particulars will be included in a petition, but the court governs the divorce process, from the actual issue of the divorce petition through to the granting of the Decree Absolute, the final decree of divorce.

However, where mediation can assist is in the other matters which arise as a consequence of parties divorcing. When any family breaks down, there are often decisions to make about where the children shall live or the level of contact the non-resident parent shall have; how the finances shall be divided and how the parties can afford to live separate lives. These are the sorts of decisions that I advise are best made between the parties directly, as there is no ‘one size fits all’ remedy available and a Judge will probably make an Order that none of the parties like. If an agreement between the parties is not possible then mediation can provide real assistance. I always encourage my clients to engage in discussions, particularly where children are involved, as any animosity or disagreement simply adds strain to an already stressful situation and can have a negative impact on the children involved.

When matters do get referred to the court, the parties are essentially saying that they are unable to reach an agreement between themselves and are leaving it to a third party to make the decision for them. This often leaves one or both parties dissatisfied, not least because the system has significant delays and costs which could be avoided if the parties were simply able to discuss the issues directly- whether this is with the assistance of a mediator, or not.

There are of course some circumstances where mediation is not appropriate for my clients, and in those circumstances it may be that the only remedy suitable is a referral to the court.

What is encouraging about the press release from the Ministry of Justice is that they are keeping a focus on the benefits of mediation and trying to encourage parties to engage in (or at least consider) mediation, prior to getting involved in the court process.

If you need any advice in relation to financial matters, children matters or divorce generally following the break down of a relationship, please do not hesitate to contact Justine Osmotherley from our Family team on 0113 336 3323 or by email at justine.osmotherley@clarionsolicitors.com

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