Family Dispute Resolution Week 2014
It is Resolution First For Families’ “Family Dispute Resolution Week”, which is running from 24th to 28th November 2014. Solicitor and Mediator, Jenny Russell, raises awareness of the alternative ways that separating couples can resolve their issues without going to court.
As Resolution say, “There is a better way to separate”. Their video titled “A better way to divorce by clicking here.
One such way is through mediation which is one of the services we provide at Lennons Solicitors. As a mediator, I work with couples helping them reach their own agreements. Before the mediation, I will speak to each of them separately for screening and safeguarding issues to be explored and to ensure that mediation is appropriate and that they are entering into it voluntarily. A mediator is neutral and they cannot give legal advice and the parties can seek their own legal advice to run alongside the process. Although I cannot advise, I can give the parties legal information and as an experienced family law solicitor, I am well placed to do this. Typically people will want to decide arrangements for their children and division of their finances, but mediators can also deal with other issues arising from the separation such as divorce proceedings and practical arrangements in the home.
On average, couples have between 3 and 6 sessions, but it does depend on their circumstances and how easily they are able to reach an agreement. If they can reach an agreement they make a significant saving on the time and costs that would be involved, if they had proceeded through the courts. It is better if the couple are able to be in the same room together with the mediator, but if they aren’t prepared to do so then shuttle mediator is an option where the couple are in separate rooms and the mediator moves between them.
Another ways of resolving disputes without going to court is through collaborative law which is similar to the above, but the couple work through the issues with a specially trained lawyer by their side.
Family arbitration is another option where one agreed arbitrator has all the details of the case and the couple agree to be bound by their ruling, called an award.
Solicitor negotiations are another way that can be used. Solicitors can work together to try to reach an agreement and this often works well if the other solicitor is also a member of Resolution and has a similar approach. I have had round table meetings on a without prejudice basis with other local solicitors here in Chesham as well as further afield.
Court proceedings are generally considered as a last resort, although they are the right option for some people. This is where the parties cannot reach an agreement or there is a difficult or unique aspect where you may want a ruling from a Judge. This is also the way forward if the above efforts have been tried but haven’t resulted in an agreement. Before going to court, since April 2014 parties have had to attend a MIAM’s meeting unless one of the exemptions apply, generally relating to domestic abuse or the need to act with urgency. This is a meeting which provides information on the alternative ways forward, so that a client can make an informed decision as to how they wish to proceed. Mediation is voluntary and people only have to be told about the options; it is their choice of course how they wish to proceed.
Help with mediation legal aid is available for those who qualify financially for mediation sessions. Since 3rd November 2014, a free mediation session is available for both parties involved in a separation, even if only one of them qualifies. I have had a case already where this has applied. Legal aid is available for certain family cases relating to finances or children where there is evidence of domestic abuse or child abuse or an order is needed for protection. The applicant does need to qualify financially.
The Family Justice Minister, Simon Hughes, has spoken positively of mediation, commenting: “We know mediation works and we are committed to making sure people use it rather than go through the confrontational stressful experience of court.”
Jane Robey, Chief Executive of National Family Mediation has also said; “We know from 30 years’ experience that family mediation works and provides lasting solutions with full agreements being reached in 7 out of 10 cases – without the need for court room drama.”