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NEW! CHANGES FROM APRIL 2013

  • FrancesPlace
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25 Mar 13 #386217 by FrancesPlace
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As of 1 April this year, the government is hoping to trim some £350m from the £2bn Legal Aid budget by scrapping almost all Legal Aid for private family law cases.
Legal Aid will only be available for Family Law cases involving allegations of domestic violence and abuse. The government is placing new emphasis on family mediation as a way to resolve family disputes, hoping that fewer of these cases will end up in court.
Family mediation is the process by which separating couples can side-step traumatic and divisive courtroom battles, by working with an independent mediator to resolve disagreements over arrangements for their children and how to divide up finances.
Quicker and cheaper
The government has said it will increase the amount of money it provides for legally aided family mediation, upping spending by £10m, taking the total spent on mediation to £25m. National Audit Office figures show that, on average, mediated cases are resolved around four-times quicker and cheaper than cases that go to court.
Family mediators are pleased by the change of direction, but worried about how people will access their services. mediation is still relatively unknown to the general public. How will people know that legal aid is available for mediation? And how will people find reputable qualified family mediators?
Judges are concerned that the cuts in legal aid will mean there will be a rise in the number of litigants in person who inevitably take up more court time and may increase the backlog of family law cases. And some solicitors say that focusing legal aid on family law cases involving accusations of domestic violence may provide a perverse incentive for these allegations.
As someone who has worked as a family mediator for more than 15 years, I see this April as a time of uncertainty, but also of great possibility that in the future mediation will become the norm. Mediation will be first port of call for separating couples.
Another reason why mediation looks set to grow are rules that came into effect in April 2011, which meant that judges are supposed to ensure that all separating couples who are embarking on the court process have at least considered mediation.
mediation information and assessment meeting
Couples are supposed to try what is called a ‘MIAM’ (a mediation information and assessment meeting), during which the benefits of mediation are explained and the couples'' suitability for mediation assessed. In fact, in many parts of the country judges have been ignoring this directive and it is planned that from April 2014 legislation will be introduced to make MIAMs compulsory.
A Ministry of Justice study has shown that when couples use mediation first, before getting to court, they are more likely to be able to continue to mediate their disagreements. The report also showed that fewer people needed further assistance with arrangements for their children after using mediation.
Family mediation is not only quicker and cheaper than litigation. It is able to provide solutions to family disputes that are tailor made to individual needs, as opposed to Court imposed decisions which tend to be formulaic. Mediation can address the minutiae of how a separation will work:. For instance one couple in mediation was able to talk about nurseries, bedtimes, dropping off plans, birthdays, holidays, extended families and telephone calls. The formal legal process is wholly ill-equipped to do this sort of thing.

Mediators can also work with parents on to how to break the news of separation or divorce to their children, a difficult issue for separating couples, but one that is always best planned jointly.

Research shows that twelve years after separation, couples who have gone through the mediation process are still reaping the rewards. Both parents are more likely to have a good relationship with their children, and an ability to communicate as parents in the interests of their children. So rather than being seen simply as a way to cut costs, or to ''keep things out of court'' the real value of mediation can be seen in the way in which it helps to improve outcomes for the children of separated parents.

Far too many of our children today have been scarred by the effects of parental conflict exacerbated by an adversarial court system. Divorce and parental separation is a fact of modern life which will not go away. Family mediation provides parents with an effective way of managing the process and it consequences. The evidence is now overwhelming that, in cases in which a marriage or conjugal relationship has irretrievably broken down, family mediation offers all concerned, and in particular the children, the best chance of moving on to new life challenges in the most constructive way. . As one person who has been through the mediaton process said : “If it hadn''t been for mediation, we’d still be fighting now.”

  • LittleMrMike
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26 Mar 13 #386321 by LittleMrMike
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Frances, first of all may I thank you for your comprehensive exposition of the benefits of mediation.
We know on wiki that many disputes are in fact settled by mediation, but we never hear about disputes that are resolved in this way.
The problem is, we know from bitter experience, that there are some who, for one reason or another, but in many cases it is simply bloody-mindedness, simply will not engage in the process . It takes two to tango.
So how is it proposed to deal with the spouse who simply will not co-operate ?
Is there, do you think, any scope for simplifying the basic paperwork so that it can be managed by anyone of reasonable intelligence, literacy and numeracy, without having to consult lawyers ? Let the mega rich have their expensive divorces ; I am concerned with ordinary people.
And in particular, is there any mileage in the idea of a form E Lite ? After all, most people do their tax return without professional assistance.
Are there any changes in the substantive law relating to post divorce financial provision that you would wish to see ?
And, one particular bee in my bonnet, could the mediation process assist in what is a particularly difficult area, namely variations of spousal maintenance ?
Well, there''s something to be getting on with !
Little Mr Mike

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26 Mar 13 #386326 by FrancesPlace
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I wish I could say that the paperwork is likely to be simplified. There are no plans to do so. Instead there are further cuts in court service, not enough staff already to deal with enquiries. My feeling is that it will only get worse.

Some people will never mediate however much as a mediator you try to keep focus on children and say its not about the argument between the two of you. The courts will have to continue to make decisions when people camnnot make their own.

If theire is at least a willingness to negotaite, keep focus on children, keep costs down and move on in life mediation is possible in whatever the dispute, including spousal maintenance.

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26 Mar 13 #386328 by dukey
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Mike that looks like a dissertation question ;)

The idea of mediation is fine but without two people willing to talk it falls flat or just does not happen, this is aided by the fact that the explosion in the number of mediators has led to some who will "sell" an FM1 for £70ish making a mockery of the proposal.

The governments plan is simple save 350 million, will it save a penny?, lots of solicitors are/will go broke, so lots of tax lost, the court system is in melt down as it is, what will happen with the hoards of LIP`s to flood the courts after April 1st, a while back i made a weak and beggarly attempt to work out what is costs to run a court, the closest i came was the cost of a district judge, its around £800 per day just for the judge, ouch.

I can`t help but think the system was fine, just abused by meritless applications wasting tax payers money, the fault lay with both solicitors and the LSC.

Many AR applications are made by women with small children, little income and an ex with a decent income, with the new rules you will end up with often men who can afford a lawyer and a woman clueless, its like saying you swim this river in a big coat and your ex has this boat to row, a recipe for disaster.

  • Enough Already
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26 Mar 13 #386408 by Enough Already
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If only variations could ONLY be handled via medation and each party were FORCED to be reasonable somehow (by penalties of some kind maybe?) - that would be a result.

I think it is an assumption that men with decent incomes are the winners here as many high earners pay 40% tax and give hefty chunks of their net income to their ex and kids plus having to fund new homes, partners, kids etc. so it is unfair to think they are on Easy Street...in my view that is not the case.

I think we all realise this change will bring about a huge rise in LIPs and the courts are going to have to be even-handed when dealing with them. In my partner''s experience he was treated as a second class citizen.

Having to LIP will put additional pressure on people already experiencing a trauma and in my view is far from ideal. The legal sstem is set up for those with years of training so how can a total beginner go in and expect to compete on an even playing field? In my experience this does not happen. Being a solicitor or barrister is a highly skilled job - what chance does a layman have of becoming good at it through necessity, especially when they are in an emotional state and heavily invested in and attached to the outcome?

Also, don''t forget that people often borrow money from partners, friends or relatives to fund divorces and that avenue is still open to them.

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26 Mar 13 #386428 by .Charles
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each party were FORCED to be reasonable somehow


Unfortunately, when there is conflict, each party will say they are being reasonable and the other being unreasonable.

Being unable to *see* reason is the main problem.

Charles

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26 Mar 13 #386432 by Enough Already
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I''m sure some bloody-minded people know full well they are being unreasonable.... :)

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