Mediation for separating couples to save family law
Parents could be ordered to attend mediation in a raft of measures being proposed to support the family justice system.
President of the family division, Sir Andrew McFarlane has described the current state of family law as “unprecedented and, on current resources, unsustainable”.
His views follow the publication of recommendations put forward by public and private law working groups which highlighted a steep rise in the number of public and private law proceedings.
The idea behind mediation is to prevent families being drawn in to potentially lengthy and expensive court battles. Mediation and information assessment meetings (MIAMs) help to resolve financial issues and children arrangements between separating parents in an amicable way, rather than fighting it out through court.
In its findings, the public law working group raised the concern that although proceedings between 2016 and 2018 had eased slightly, there were still more cases than before this time, but fewer social workers, care professionals, judges, solicitors and children’s guardians to deal with them.
The concern was echoed by the private law working group which noted that the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) received 4,166 cases in March – 18% more than in 2018. It also warned that since cuts to legal aid in 2013, the number of publically funded private law cases had shrunk from 45,000 to just 10,300.
Its recommendation to help resolve the situation is to ensure that, unless there are mitigating circumstances or safeguarding issues and where it hasn’t already been arranged, judges and court staff should be more prepared to order a MIAM before the first court hearing.
Legal aid for parents during pre-proceedings was one of 57 recommendations put forward by the public law working group.
Commenting on the proposals, Amanda Connor, head of family law at Russell & Russell and a specialist in private law children work and advocacy, said: “Mediation should always be the first step in the process of separating. It helps prevent more animosity between ex partners and, more importantly, reduces the impact separation has on the children. The fact that this hasn’t been happening as much as it should is testament to the number of cases needlessly going to court.”