Thousands of couples who separate each year have been urged to spurn confrontational court battles and instead to try mediation to sort out disputes over finances and children – as new figures show divorce rates increased last year.
Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes has called on more parents and couples to use mediation rather than face the stressful experience of going to court following today’s publication of the Office of National Statistics figures.
The figures show 118,140 people divorced in England and Wales in 2012 – an increase from the 117,558 in 2011.
In 2012/13 more than 17,000 people successfully used legally aided family mediation – which is often quicker, cheaper and produces longer lasting results than going to court – to sort out disputes over their property, finances and children.
The Government continues to provide millions of pounds of legal aid so that more separating couples can make use of mediation – and in some cases financial help is also available for legal support for the process.
Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes said:
“Mediation works. We are committed to making sure that more people make use of it rather than go through the confrontational and stressful experience of going to court.
“These figures show thousands of people are sadly still divorcing each year. We want them to do it in the least damaging way for everyone involved, especially children. That is why we want them to use the excellent mediation services available to agree a way forward, rather than have one forced upon them.”
Mediation uses negotiations to reach agreements which both people are prepared to live with, rather than having them dictated by the court. It is led by a trained and certified mediator and couples can ask a court to consider and make their agreement into a legally binding and enforceable court order.
The Government is introducing major changes in the Children and Families Bill designed to ensure that in future separating parents and couples will first consider using mediation to resolve the issues around divorce and separation – like splitting finances and property or agreeing child contact times – rather than fighting over it in court.
The proposed new law, which is currently being considered by Parliament, seeks to change the process so that a person who wants to apply for a court order about a children or financial matter must first attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM). Exemptions from this requirement will apply, such as where there is evidence of domestic violence.
Research shows that mediation can help people to reach solutions more quickly and cheaply and that couples who use mediation are less likely to need to return to the legal system to sort out ongoing issues. As it is a less confrontational process than taking a battle to court, it is also less traumatic for any children involved.
Notes to Editors
- ONS Divorce statistics
- The average legal aid cost of resolving a private family dispute following a relationship breakdown is approximately £500 per couple through mediation. This is compared to £4,000 per person for issues settled through the courts. The average time for a mediated case is 110 days compared to 435 days for non-mediated cases.
- Last year more than 17,000 people successfully used publicly funded mediation with only six per cent needing further legal services, compared to 21 per cent of those who didn’t use mediation. ‘Sustainability of mediation and legal representation in private family law cases: Analysis of legal aid administrative datasets, Quartermain [MoJ 2011]’.
- 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. In certain other circumstances – such as with domestic violence or child protection concerns - legal action through the courts may be needed.
- Information for anyone considering divorce or separation, advice on some of the support and services available is available.
- More information on family mediation and reaching agreements can also be found on the Sorting Out Separation web app at sortingoutseparation.org.uk.
- For more information please call the Ministry of Justice press office on 020 3334 3536.