Anne Barlow, Professor of Family Law and Policy at the University of Exeter and academic member of the Family Justice Council
Drawing on the preliminary findings of the three year ESRC-funded Mapping Paths to Family Justice research project being undertaken by the Universities of Exeter and Kent, this paper will consider the perceived strengths and weaknesses of three forms of out of court family dispute resolution - solicitor negotiation, mediation and collaborative law - as experienced by parties. In so doing, it will consider what parties' experiences of these processes provisionally reveal about shifting notions of justice being delivered by out-of-court dispute resolution. In particular, is the delegated empowerment to reach agreement out of court - now overtly encouraged by recent reforms - displacing the need for such disputes to be negotiated in the shadow of the law? The paper will argue that whilst out of court dispute resolution can often be beneficial, more attention needs to be placed on gender and power issues alongside assuring the quality of practitioner. In addition, the presentation of real and appropriate choice of dispute resolution process to parties is critical to its likely success or failure.
The full version of this article appears in the May Special Issue of Family Law.
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