September 12, 2011

Forcing the issue – mediation under survey spotlight

The latest annual matrimonial survey – of 101 family lawyers – from the forensic and investigation services team at accountant Grant Thornton, provides a fascinating insight into the zeitgeist of the way we British are marrying – and divorcing – as a nation.

As a firm that specialises in the collaborative approach to family law, and one of the pioneers of the movement here in Yorkshire, we at Jones Myers are particularly interested to read Grant Thornton’s findings on the effects being felt nationwide from the new government requirement for all potentially separating couples to attend a compulsory mediation assessment meeting.

Reflecting the experience of our own team of family lawyers, we weren’t surprised to discover that the survey reveals the reservations of lawyers across the country about the government’s money-saving push for mediation.

In particular the survey highlights that almost 40 per cent of lawyers share concerns that mediation should be about agreement between the parties, making it the most appropriate option rather than a statutory requirement.

As trained and experienced mediators we know that mediation can, and often does, help clients to negotiate their own agreements and avoid resorting to the courts. But as a way of reducing the strain on the justice system, compulsory mediation is a hopelessly blunt instrument that could actually do more harm than good. 

The fine print of the new rules makes clear that mediation itself is not compulsory – simply attendance at a meeting to learn about the process – but this fine print has passed most people by.  Where there’s a power imbalance in the separating couple’s relationship or one party is not prepared to be open with the other, mediation may not work and instead expose vulnerable clients to unproductive contact with their former partners.  

Turning to collaborative family law, we are pleased to see widespread support for a process that aims to reduce the stress of separation for couples and their families, finalising a split without going to court. Yet while the collaborative process, sometimes dubbed the “pain-free way to divorce”, was overwhelmingly considered to be cheaper, quicker and less stressful for clients, it was interesting to note that fewer than half of the lawyers surveyed (44 per cent) were collaboratively trained.

At Jones Myers we have seen the enormous benefits that the collaborative approach to divorce can deliver to our clients. Share your thoughts with us below or email us.