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Divorce, Separation and Mediation

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The 6th April 2011 saw dramatic reform in family court procedures in England and Wales. The date marked a change in the law whereby all divorcing and separating couples are required to consider mediation in an attempt to settle any disputes before being allowed to go to court. This shake-up of procedures is designed to act as an alternative to court proceedings thereby reducing the number of family disputes which end up in court and thus saving critical court time and expense. If mediation is successful, a quicker, more cost effective result may well be achieved. So how does it work? The new rules make it mandatory for couples seeking to resolve a child or financial dispute to consider mediation. Parties will be referred to a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting and if considered suitable, further mediation sessions may follow. Once the above has been considered the rules do not make it obligatory to commit to the process thereafter. It is also important to note that these rules will not apply if there are child protection issues or if there has been domestic violence within the last 12 months. Unless the relationship between the parties is particularly fraught or parties are uncomfortable with the prospect of being in the same room, then generally, appointments will be face to face with a mediator present. Shuttle mediation is the alternative to this whereby the mediator will move between the two parties to try and reach decisions. All discussions remain confidential and on neutral territory, creating a less threatening and more comfortable environment for those involved. In financial disputes full and frank disclosure is required. The mediator asks for any relevant documents to assist them with the ultimate aim of agreeing the fair division of matrimonial assets. Whilst mediation continues, the parties involved should consult with their legal representatives where necessary. Is it legally binding? If the couples reach agreement in their mediation classes then it is advisable for solicitors to draw up a consent order. If this is then approved by a District Judge the order will be sealed by the court and become legally binding. If later breached by either party, this document can be enforced by the court. Again, not only does successful mediation prevent potential court room battles, it saves time and cost and can help preserve relationships which is particularly important in cases concerning children. If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article and you would like a free initial consultation in order to discuss the same please contact the Family Law Team on 01245 228106 or e-mail paynes@gepp.co.uk. The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.