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Mandatory mediation in family proceedings

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The Ministry of Justice has announced that divorcing couples will be required to attend a compulsory mediation information and assessment meeting, before being able to issue Court proceedings to resolve matters arising out of the breakdown of the relation

The Ministry of Justice has announced that divorcing couples will be required to attend a compulsory mediation information and assessment meeting, before being able to issue Court proceedings to resolve matters arising out of the breakdown of the relationship.  This can be in relation to financial matters arising out of a separation or matters in respect of children such as who they live with, when they see the other party etc.  The rationale for these rules is to encourage parties to look at an alternative way of resolving their disputes, without needing to issue Court proceedings.  It is right that the Court process is often heavily criticised as being adversarial and not always the best way to resolve family disputes.  The process can take a long time; the costs will inevitably be high and often a District Judge makes a ruling that neither party are happy with.  It is also right to say that it does put the parties under immense pressure and often any prospect of saving some form of friendship is completely lost.  This is particularly saddening when there are children involved and the parents need some form of relationship to continue co-parenting the children. 

From 6 April 2011 it will be a requirement that the parties must first go to a professional mediator before being able to go to Court.  Of course, not every case is suitable for mediation and there are defined circumstances when mediation will not be appropriate nor necessary.  These include, but are not limited to one of the parties being bankrupt; an application being made in an emergency; allegations of domestic violence etc.  If a case is unsuitable for mediation, then this case can continue to the Court.  However, those that are suitable for mediation will be required to attend, and actively participate in the mediation process.  In our experience, using an alternative method to resolve finances can be successful in the right circumstances.  Mark Burns, Managing Partner and Family Lawyer is a trained mediator.  Justine Osmotherley is a trained collaborative lawyer.  These are all alternatives to Court and, when successful, do go a great way to helping the parties move forward.  It is felt, therefore, that the new measures will go a long way to helping clients making an informed choice about the option that is best for them and their family moving forward in, what is inevitably, an incredibly difficult time.