The Ministry of Justice has published legal aid statistics for April to June 2015, which show that over the last year the public appetite for family mediation is increasing. Mediation take-up for those entitled to legal aid and their former partners has gone up by a third compared to the same time in 2014. The Ministry of Justice suggests that this may show that a greater number of MIAMs – Mediation Information and (legal aid) Assessment Meetings – are leading to more people giving mediation a go than since before legal aid was removed from most family court proceedings.
The statistics show that over the last year, former couples reached agreement during mediation in 64% of all cases. Agreement was most likely in children cases, where 67% were reported as successful. This is particularly reassuring as it means that two-thirds of the sets of parents who might otherwise have ended up arguing in court over their kids have been able to come to an agreement that saves their children the stress of proceedings, and creates a workable, practical framework in which they can concentrate on enjoying their childhoods.
Legal aid is still available for family mediation to those with limited financial resources. This means that if you’re eligible, you can get it for free. Even better, if only one of the two people involved in a family law dispute is entitled to legal aid, both of you can have a free MIAM and first session of mediation. You may be eligible for Legal Aid if your before-tax income from all sources is less than £2,657 per month, but your capital and savings, including the value of your home, will also be taken into account in a rather complex calculation. Unless you are in receipt of certain ‘passporting’ benefits, it’s difficult to say in advance whether you will be eligible for legal aid without performing the full calculation, but to get an idea of whether or not you might be eligible you can find the government’s legal aid checker here.
At CFLP we are particular fans of mediation as a dispute-resolution process for parents who are struggling to agree on arrangements for children after divorce or separation, whether or not they may be entitled to legal aid. We believe that mediation can work wherever both parents involved want to find a solution to their disagreement, and where they want to avoid having to go to court to get one. If both are committed to the process, and to getting the right solution for the children, the prospects for mediation are good even if relations between you are strained and emotions fraught.
When you’re separating and creating two households from one, there are always financial pressures. Working out a dispute by using mediation is often much cheaper than going to court, plus you get the choice of arranging sessions that work in your circumstances rather than simply being given a date and time when you must attend. (Of course, keeping costs down means more money to spend on the children.)
Arrangements that everyone can tolerate and that work for the children tend to last better than those imposed by a judge who doesn’t really know your family. Courts follow a formal procedure that is the same for everyone, whereas mediation is a flexible process where the mediator works with the two of you to help you find the answers. Often, this leads to improved communication between you, which makes life much easier and less stressful for your children. They will want you to be able to be civil and in the same room before their school-leavers’ prom, at their graduations from university, at weddings and celebrating the birth of grandchildren. The win/lose nature of court proceedings can be something that parents and children are never able truly to get over.
By removing legal aid from family court proceedings except where there are issues of violence or abuse, and retaining and expanding it for family mediation, the government sent a strong message that it believes the best way to resolve family disputes is outside the court framework. There’s no question that the policy change was primarily motivated by economics; but it can’t be denied that going to court does not always help to create good lasting outcomes for families.
Mediation is not a panacea for all family disputes. Some cases will always need to go to court for varied and complex reasons surrounding either the people involved, the subject-matter, or both. However, for children matters in particular, we believe that mediation is worth considering as an option at any stage of your dispute, whether or not you’re entitled to legal aid.
If you’d like to know more about family mediation, take a look at our web pages on MIAMs and mediation, and our previous blogs about breaking down barriers to mediation, a better way to divorce or separate, conflict and divorce, and getting the best out of family mediation. At CFLP, Sue, Gail, Adam and Tricia are mediators, so do give any of them a call on 01223 443334 if you’d like to discuss how they could help you.
And finally, watch this space for exciting times coming soon for mediation at CFLP.