The Government has announced that mediation awareness meetings will be compulsory from 6th April 2011 for all people who have disputes arising from separation and divorce. These disputes may relate to issues regarding the children, such as where the child should live, how often they should see the other parent. They also include the financial issues, such as what happens to the house, pensions, savings etc.

It was not a huge surprise to myself. Farleys has a legal aid Family franchise and what has become increasingly clear over the years is that the Government needs to reduce the legal aid budget. This means that people at their most vulnerable time in life may no longer obtain the assistance they require.

Mediation is that first step for the Government to reduce its legal aid budget. The Government’s introduction of compulsory mediation awareness meetings means that no person can apply to the court to help the Court resolve their issue unless they have attended this meeting first. There are of course exemptions to this, but these are limited and of course, if you have no issues to resolve and simply want to divorce then you do not need to attend a mediation awareness meeting.

The thought process behind the introduction of these meetings is that in the longer term, successful mediation is more often than not cheaper and quicker than negotiations through solicitors or the court process. At the moment, I would accept that this is true. However, there is a shortage of qualified mediators across the country and one has to wonder if the Government has considered the impact of compulsory referrals to mediation on mediators – is the sharp intake of referrals not in fact going to increase timescales?

I accept mediation has its benefits and if two people feel able to speak to each other to discuss their issues I am always more than willing to refer them to mediation. In the longer term, I think the benefits of Collaborative Law (a mixture of mediation and legal advice) may become the way forward and I would certainly advise divorcing couples to consider this approach first.