As with so many government initiatives, the policy decision to push separating families away from lawyers and into mediation (or at least those who rely on legal aid) has failed spectacularly. The referral rate to mediation has dropped dramatically since legal aid was withdrawn from most family law cases. The government apparently failed to realise (despite being told by anyone who knew anything about it) that it was the lawyers who made the referrals!
It is though not all doom and gloom. For people who can afford professional advice, lawyers are working increasingly constructively and there has been a surge in people seeking out collaborative lawyers to help them through the divorce process. Hopefully therefore the next generation of divorced adults and their children will not suffer the scars of an acrimonious (and often financially ruinous) divorce.
But let’s not forget about mediation. It is remains the only entirely neutral process that provides help and support for adults to reach their own decisions. Legal information is an integral part of mediation and whilst mediators cannot give tactical advice to either party they do make sure they understand the options and implications of what is discussed. And don’t think that all mediators are of the ‘knitted cardigan’ variety. The vast majority are family lawyers who also represent clients in court. Mediation can also take any forms. Personally I am seeing an increasing number of people who have struggled to reach an agreement with their lawyers. Coming to see me is therefore sometimes the last ditch attempt to avoid court. Often this is a ‘one day’ event (sometimes with lawyers present) and my experience is that it works.
So, my rallying cry is not to forget about mediation simply because the government wants you to do it!
This post was written by David Allison as a blog for the Divorce Support Group.