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Local law firm launch new mediation service ahead of Government plans
- AuthorSam Miles
Hard on the heels of Britain’s longest-running and most bitter divorce, the Government has said it will be pushing more couples towards mediation. Working as a mediator, Samantha Miles, Partner and Head of the Family department, has seen first-hand how mediation can help couples make life-changing decisions in their relationship, and so is wholly supportive of this initiative.
The multi-million pound divorce case of Young v Young was, according to the judge, “extraordinary even by the standards of the most bitter of matrimonial breakdowns”. The seven-year court battle between the couple has cost millions and notched up 65 hearings in court before the wife finally secured a £20m financial award last month. And the case may yet return to court to deal with costs and enforcing the award.
It’s possible that mediation could have helped the Young’s agree on financial matters and so could have kept them out of court for seven years. It’s with this in mind that the Government is pushing ahead with plans intended to reduce the emotional and financial burden of the whole process, with the announcement of more mediation for couples who are splitting up.
Under proposed measures in the Children and Families Bill, which is in its final stages of going through Parliament, couples who are separating and want to apply for a court order about children or financial matters must first attend what is being called a “mediation information and assessment meeting”. Some exemptions will apply, such as evidence of domestic violence.
Although some 120,000 couples in England and Wales separate every year, previous efforts by the Government to encourage couples into mediation have not seen good take-up, even though the results of mediation show that it is faster and cheaper than going to court – the average time for a mediated case is 110 days compared to 435 days for non-mediated cases.
Sam explained: “In a court case, the judge will have much wider discretion, but it’s not the job of the judge to arrange a compromise that both sides can live with. That’s where mediation comes in, as it gives both sides much more control over the outcome as they can refuse to accept the mediator’s proposals at any stage and keep on parleying, and there’s more room for compromise. Depending on the circumstances that have brought on the separation there may be hostility, anger or even fear towards a partner, and this will cloud the decision making process. Mediation is designed to overcome those feelings by using an independent person to take a step back from the relationship and view things from an outside perspective. We don’t offer marriage guidance or counselling, but simply the opportunity to facilitate communication between the two parties in a safe and neutral setting.
“People often reject the idea of mediation because they’re worried about being bullied or can’t face seeing their ex, but you don’t have to sit in the same room and it doesn’t stop you having a legal adviser at your side to help put your case. In the majority of cases, resolving decisions through mediation not only avoids the need for contested court battles, but it also brings closure to a relationship, helping the parties to move onto a healthy future.
The remaining stages of the Children and Families Bill are expected to be completed in the next few months, but in the meantime January was once again the peak period for couples deciding to separate, with official figures showing that internet searches for ‘divorce’ on Government sites such as www.justice.gov.uk peak in January.
“I’ve been practicing family law for the past 15 years, and have seen many cases where divorcing or separating couples have struggled to make decisions, and the impact this has on their family life and their emotional state of mind,” concludes Samantha. “This is why I trained to become a mediator, so we can be in a position to help those who need it.”
For more information about Warner Goodman LLP’s Mediation service, please call 02380 717431 to book your appointment.
This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice. All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.