- Family justice body Resolution urges caution over new proposals to force couples into mediation
- Government needs to look at additional ways of resolving disputes
- Early legal advice most effective way to help families avoid court – and gives mediation the best chance of success
Resolution, the campaigning body representing 6,500 family justice professionals, has today guarded against Government proposals which could see thousands of families forced into mediation, regardless of whether it is the best way forward for them.
It warned that unless these measures are underpinned by better signposting to and funding of early legal advice, separating families could be left to flounder in a failing family justice system.
Resolution’s Chair, Juliet Harvey, said: “We welcome anything that can help families avoid court where it’s possible, safe and appropriate for them to do so. Mediation will help many to do this and can be a very effective method of resolving disputes. But it is not right for everyone, and works best when it is done voluntarily – forcing parents to choose a route that may not be suitable for them is not the answer. It may leave them without a lasting solution and could mean they end up needing more help and taking up more court time further down the line.
“It is far better to help couples make informed choices to find the route that gives them the best chance of reaching constructive, lasting outcomes. By providing separating couples with information on those routes and access to early legal advice, they are better equipped to make choices about important issues like family finances and what arrangements are made for children.”
“The experience of our members is that this often leads to families choosing a non-court-based approach – sometimes mediation, but sometimes other forms of resolution. Where they are underpinned by even a relatively small amount of information about the law, these solutions are far more likely to succeed.”
Ten years since legal aid was removed for the majority of family work, mediation numbers for legal aid cases have plummeted to about half the level they were before the cuts, demonstrating the importance of legal advice in guiding couples into mediation. At the same time, the proportion of cases in the family courts where neither party had legal representation has rocketed from 13% in 2013 to 39% last year.
At the same time, demand on the family courts has never been higher, and families are facing massive delays – the most recent figures show it is taking almost a year on average to determine arrangements for children, with contested financial matters taking nearly two years.
Since 2020, Resolution has been working with Advicenow to provide affordable legal advice to those who would otherwise have gone on to represent themselves and navigate their way through overburdened and creaking family courts. Findings from the evaluation of the Affordable Advice service showed:
- 50% of users said they would not have otherwise sought advice.
- 82% of users said they would use the solicitor again for help with future family law problems.
- A high proportion of users said it helped them feel more confident (90%), less stressed (82%), and able to better make their case (82%).
- Every user who had secured outcomes said they were satisfied with the outcome of their case and the advice and support they had received – with one deciding not to proceed with their divorce as a result of the advice their solicitor had given them.
Mary Marvel, Deputy Chief Executive of Law for Life, the charity that runs Advicenow, said: “The input of Resolution members has been invaluable for people using this service. If Government is serious about reducing the demand on the family court and improving outcomes for separating families, they should provide funding and better signposting to the Affordable Advice service.
“Not only does it support people who would otherwise be left without access to legal advice, it also supports the mediation process by reducing the need for mediators to provide legal information and enabling people to receive advice on any legal issues that may arise within the mediation.”
Juliet Harvey concluded: “Our members are helping families avoid court every day – many of them who are lawyers also offer mediation or other non-court-based solutions. We’re committed to working with government to help more families reach lasting, constructive outcomes.
“In return, Ministers need to appreciate the key role legal advice plays in helping achieve this, and fund it accordingly, rather than taking a potentially punitive approach that may not be right for everyone.”