A family law expert has given a cautious welcome to the news that the Government is planning to make mediation – used as an alternative to costly court cases – mandatory in divorce cases.
Recently it was revealed that justice minister Simon Hughes has backed the Government’s plans to ensure that separating couples involved in disputes involving property or child contact, should seek advice from professional mediators before relying on a court to make a decision.
The plans are expected to come into force as part of the Children and Families Bill in April of this year.
Simon Gledhill, head of Family at Napthens solicitors, gave the plans a cautious welcome, and warned that pushing couples into mediation is not always the solution.
He said: “Mediation is a very useful alternative to the court process, which can be particularly stressful in a divorce. However, it was previously entirely voluntary.
“The Government’s change is partly driven by costs – legal aid was abolished recently for the vast majority of family court cases, leaving many unable to afford costly court cases.
“If one party in a divorce is represented and the other isn’t, there would be inequality in the process. So mediation has been seen as the answer.
“However, I know from experience that if parties are forced to go to mediation, it is often a real challenge for the mediator to achieve the constructive approach that is required. It’s also possible that there are not enough mediators available to support such a system where every case is referred.
“Many people may find it tough to sit down with a mediator and their spouse to discuss the issues – they may be intimidated or feel unable to express their feelings and arguments properly.
“It is possible that situations will arise under the new system where agreements are reached that are not in the best interests of one of the parties or their children.
“I will be watching with interest to see how the new system is introduced and what steps will be taken to address these fears.”