A Freedom of Information request from the legal resource Family Law has uncovered that more and more parents are shunning mediation in favour of a court imposed settlement. Rather shockingly, the statistics have revealed that between April and September 2013, nearly half of all parties involved in child related court proceedings were unrepresented.
The changes to public funding which were introduced in April 2013 have had a significant impact on family mediation. Recent figures suggest that between April and November 2013, the total number of mediation starts fell by just over 1/3 when compared to the same period in 2012.
The Ministry of Justice had hoped that the cuts in legal aid funding would mean more applicants pursuing the route of mediation, however this appears to have had the opposite effect.
In response to this, the Ministry of Justice hope to rely on forthcoming changes in the law which would make it compulsory for all applicants to first meet a mediator before being allowed to issue court proceedings. However, this idea in itself comes with its own problems and has caused some controversy. Mediation has traditionally been a voluntary process and there are some who think that compelling people into going to mediation is actually likely to make it less likely to be successful.
In any event, mediation is not for everyone. For example, it will generally not be suitable in cases where there has been a history of domestic violence.
The question therefore arises as to what many lower income separating families are currently doing to resolve disputes? We know that mediation is on the decline. Figures also suggest that the number of litigants in person is rising. However, the figures and facts are not yet sufficiently clear and so at this stage assumptions can only be made as to the current state of this area of law.
It may be the case that many lower-income families are resolving matters between themselves now that instructing a solicitor is no longer a viable option. It may also be that, in the absence of legal input, many families continue to be experience conflict.
Sadly, it may also be the case that a number of non-resident parents are giving up entirely.
If you are experiencing family issues and would like advice from a family law solicitor, get in touch with us. Our team of family lawyers can assist with divorce, separation and children matters, also offering a mediated approach through a process called ‘collaborative law’.