The Government has announced that all couples involved in contentious divorces will have to participate in mediation before going to court.
This new requirement, which has been added to the Family Procedure Rules 2010 and will come into force on 6 April 2011, will require divorcing couples to arrange a mediation information and assessment meeting at their own expense. Couples whose divorce is publicly funded already have to mediate.
If the parties refuse to attend a mediation meeting together, separate meetings can be held. However, if the mediator or either party believes that mediation is unsuitable in their case, or if there is a risk to anyone’s safety, the parties can be exempted and the case will continue to court. This new protocol will not apply to cases involving domestic violence or child protection – these cases will progress straight to court.
The Government hopes that the use of mediation will allow couples the opportunity to amicably resolve their disputes, without the need for costly, stressful and time-consuming court hearings.
Whilst this move towards mediation should be broadly welcomed, it is not an overarching solution to all family disputes. It can only work if both parties fully embrace the process and come to the table as equals; it cannot work if one party wields more power, or if one party is being deliberately obstructive. If mediation doesn’t work, it will inevitably add more cost, stress and time to the divorce process – which is exactly what the Government is trying to avoid.
Regardless of whether proceedings are conducted through mediation or through the courts, divorce and separation will always be an emotional and painful event. It is therefore essential that couples consider all of their options before making such a decision.
If you would like to know more about your options, or want to discuss how the mediation process works, please contact me at email@example.com.