The largest provider of family mediation in England and Wales, the National Family Mediation, have called the latest government figures ‘an embarrassment’ as they show a collapse in the number of people using mediation to resolve family disputes in the past 12 months.

The figures issued this week show a fall from 2012/13 to 2013/14 of 56 per cent for mediation assessments, 38 per cent for mediation ‘starts’ and 27 per cent in final agreements.

Changes introduced on 22 April 2014 mean that, unless an exemption applies, an applicant must have attended a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making an application to court to deal with disputes over children or finances.

The National Family Mediation have now called on the Government, in order to demonstrate their commitment to mediation, to make it free for people to attend the MIAM.

In light of the significant decrease in the take up of family mediation there has been a multi-million pound underspend on legally aided mediation.  Jane Robey, NFM’s Chief Executive has suggested this means Ministers could now make it free to attend the initial MIAM.  She said:

“The government says it wants more people to go to mediation rather than clogging up the family courts, yet its policies of the past two years have achieved precisely the opposite. There are huge increases in the numbers of people representing themselves in courts following legal aid cuts, and now these figures show a collapse in the number of people going to mediation.”

It is important to note that whilst figures show that people attempting mediation has declined, official figures also show that 79 per cent of those who started mediation reached full agreement; a figure which is up from 67 per cent the year before.

Mediation should be seen as a useful tool to resolving family disputes; whether it be child arrangements, separation or financial. Whilst the latest figures show fewer people are attending mediation, they also show that those attending mediation are reaching an agreement and that it works.

Mediation is only one process to try and resolve disputes without going to court.  Other options include collaborative law and family arbitration. No one process is suitable for everyone and ultimately it is important to match the correct process to each couple so as to maximize the prospect of success. An experienced family lawyer, particularly one who is a member of Resolution (an organisation committed to promoting a constructive, non-confrontational approach to family law), will help find the best way forward.

If you need help or advice in relation to any aspect of family law, please contact us to speak to one of our family law solicitors.