From 6th April 2011 everything changed, or was said to have changed, in the family courts.  All the court forms were changed and the major innovation was the introduction of mediation – as though mediation something new!  Everyone contemplating a divorce or separation will have been through some form of mediation, even if they may not have referred to it as such.  Nobody decides to separate or end a marriage quickly and it is generally a rather slow and painful decision and there are consequences good and bad to consider in ending that relationship.

Even when parties reach their lawyers, most family lawyers are members of Resolution, if not Collaborative Lawyers, and they will always try and negotiate a settlement.  Mediation is not new!

Obviously most people would want to negotiate a settlement, it makes sense to try and reach your own solution rather than having one imposed by the courts.  But sometimes that is not possible – the other party might be bullying or manipulative, or just simply refuse to cooperate.  How else then do you get what is due to you other than by going through the courts?

Generally though, particularly where children are involved, it is far, far better to try and bring everybody round a table actually or metaphorically.  Parents need to be able to get on post separation if there are children.  Whatever the grievances between you, you need to be able to communicate to make on-going arrangements about the children and you owe it to them to be as civilised as possible.

Is the new regime at the court helping all this?

Well, it seems not as it seems to have just confused everybody – not just because all the forms have changed, but because the term “mediation” can mean anything and nothing.  Like most bureaucratically imposed solutions it is rather a tick box format whereby parties have to be referred to mediation.  There is now a shortage of mediators, so not all mediators will be adequately trained and able to give as good advice as a family lawyer.  Far more cost effective would be to use the collaborative approach, whereby from day one you agree to do everything collaboratively, together, as transparently as possible and as constructively as possible.  Instead of solicitors letters which so often enflame, just straightforward discussions that get to the point about “what is to be done”.

Everyone has financial, emotional and practical issues to resolve and the sooner these are dealt with constructively the better.  Mediation is great if it can lead to a resolution, not if it is simply yet another hoop for people to have to go through before they can deal with the consequence of separation.

Let’s hope the new regime will actually work out better than it suggests.  Is it just a Government imposed way of trying to reduce the number of people going to court and the cost of this?

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