Press release

Additional £10 million to fund mediation and help separating couples avoid court battles

New measures are being put in place to support separating couples.

New measures are being put in place to support separating couples at the time of year when the number of people considering separation and divorce is at its peak.

Experts say the post-Christmas period is when the most enquiries about separation and divorce are made - so much so that the first working day in January is dubbed ‘Divorce Day’ by many in the legal sector. Last year the number of searches for information about divorce on the Ministry of Justice’s website almost doubled in January and the Government information website Gov.Uk also saw increased interest.

The Government is now taking steps to ensure that couples who do sadly make the decision to separate give consideration to using mediation - a quicker, simpler and more effective way of agreeing how they divide their assets or arrange child contact, which avoids the traumatic and divisive effect of courtroom battles.

In recent years greater numbers of people have been successfully using mediation - where they are helped to agree the issues between themselves rather than argue it out through lawyers with a judge taking the final decisions - and the Government expects to invest an additional £10m this year (taking the total spent to £25m) so more couples can do the same.

Family Justice Minister Lord McNally said:

‘Going through a divorce or separation can be an emotionally draining and stressful time for everyone involved, especially for children.

‘All too often money is wasted on expensive and traumatic court hearings that can take far too long to resolve - and that is why we want to help people to use mediation, a quicker and simpler approach which brings better outcomes.’

Couples use mediation to work out the arrangements around their separation with the guidance of a qualified mediator, enabling them to reach agreements they are prepared to keep to, rather than have decisions imposed by a judge after solicitors have argued the case in court. Legal advice from a solicitor can be part of the mediation process so that each person knows what their rights are.

The new funding follows changes to the court processes last year which mean couples seeking a court order about child contact or a financial matter attend a mediation assessment session first, to find out about mediation and consider whether it is suitable for them.

Notes to editors:

  1. The average cost of resolving property and finance disputes caused by separation is approximately £500 through mediation for a publicly funded client, compared to £4,000 for issued settled through the courts. The average time for a mediated case is 110 days compared to 435 days for non-mediated cases.
  2. The additional £10m is expected to meet increased use of mediation from April 2013 and will provide additional public funding for eligible couples to use mediation. The Government currently spends £15m a year on family mediation.
  3. Mediation won’t be right for everyone. Some people will be able to sort out their own disputes without using mediation or going to court, and in certain circumstances - such as with domestic violence or child protection - legal action through the courts may be needed.
  4. Information for anyone considering divorce or separation, advice on some of the support and services available is available at www.gov.uk.
  5. Searches for ‘divorce’ on www.justice.gov.uk increased from 744 in December 2011 to 1,364 in January 2012. There were 692 searches on DirectGov (now part of Gov.Uk) for ‘divorce process’ in the first week of January 2012, compared to 188 in the first week of December.
  6. For more information please call the Ministry of Justice press office on 020 3334 3536.

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