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Government to make one mediation session free for all if one party is legally aided

Date:20 AUG 2014
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The government has today announced funding for 'one single mediation session for everyone’, if one of the parties is already legally aided. (At present only the legally aided party can have the session for free, meaning there is a cost for the other member of the couple, which can deter them from taking part.)

According to the government, last year nearly two thirds of couples who attended a single mediation session for a child dispute reached a full agreement. Almost seven out of every ten couples who opted for mediation reached an agreement.

Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes MP said:
 'Earlier this year we introduced major reforms to the family justice system to reduce delays and keep families away from court. But this is not the end of the process. Too many families still end up in court locked in confrontational, damaging and expensive court battles.

We know mediation works and we want more people to make use of it. This is why we are announcing today funding for free mediation sessions, improving the advice and information available for couples who are separating.'
Speaking of the announcement, Marc Lopatin, trained mediator and founder of LawyerSupportedMediation.com said:

'Ministers have wreaked huge damage to family mediation since cuts to legal aid and this announcement is unlikely to repair that damage. If they want to help, Ministers must acknowledge what their own department's data and published research says over and over again: standalone mediation does not meet consumer need.

Until Ministers use legal aid to align gatekeeper solicitors with family mediators, separating parents will continue to clog up the courts or worse still give up the ghost entirely.'
Resolution chair Jo Edwards responds to the announcement, saying:

'Whilst we welcome today’s announcement that more mediation sessions will be funded by Government, these measures will only help those where at least one person is eligible for legal aid and the case is suitable for mediation. Mediation is not a suitable route for everyone and it’s important to remember that most couples need more than one session to reach agreement.

We know mediation numbers have dropped since the cuts to family legal aid, so we hope this measure will help some people separate in a way that minimises conflict. However, we do not expect this to have a significant impact on the number of couples resolving their disputes out of court.

We call on Government to allocate funding to allow separating couples to understand their legal situation, explore the options available to them and support other dispute resolution processes in addition to mediation which may be more suitable for a wider number of people.

We’re disappointed that there are no plans to review marriage or divorce law in this Parliament, in particular fault-based divorce. The legal necessity to apportion blame remains a huge barrier to couples resolve their disputes and can make it difficult for people to settle their differences without recourse to the courts. We hope that a future Government, whatever its composition may be, will address this pressing issue.
The announcement of a single mediation session for both parties if one of them is already legally aided follows recommendations made by the independent Mediation Task Force.

For further details see, 'Growing family law services in a post-LASPO world: mediation as collateral beneficiary' by Marc Lopatin due to be published in October Family Law