Family mediation drop off – MoJ response

If you are one half of a couple going through the difficulties of separation at the moment, are you aware of how a well trained family mediator can help? According to figures released by mediator Marc Lopatin, quite possibly not.

These figures show a dramatic decline in the number of couples using the service and have resulted in the Ministry of Justice seeking to strengthen its strategy relating to mediation.

Lopatin, founder of the organisation Lawyer-Supported Mediation, has obtained figures following a freedom of information request. They show that 14,758 couples attended mediation information and assessment meetings [known as MIAMS] during the period June to September 2012 – but this number fell to just 7,170 during the corresponding period in 2013. In other words, in the six month period since legal aid cuts were introduced in April 2013, the number of couples going through separation attending these initial mediation sessions fell by a surprising 51% – and between July and September, attendance fell by 58% on the previous year.

During the period July to September 2013, Bristol, Birmingham, Brighton, Manchester and Nottingham all saw monthly year on year falls of two –thirds in the numbers attending such sessions.

The figures compiled by Lopatin imply that the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act had the effect of halving the numbers of referrals for mediation within just a month of coming into force.

Mediation – the need for increased public awareness

Lopatin’s view is that the nosediving numbers allied with an increase in the number of people seeking to represent themselves indicates that separating couples fail to find family mediation “sufficiently compelling” as an option, despite the fact that the Ministry of Justice budgeted for a significant rise in the number of people choosing to opt for mediation to help them resolve separation issues.

However, a growing number of mediators feel that the main reason why mediation is not more widely used is a simple one – couples are not aware of it as an option, or do not fully understand how the process can help them, and in some cases both. This view seems to be reinforced by the Ministry of Justice, who have a poster and leaflet campaign underway to increase public awareness of mediation. The Ministry have emphasised that “millions of pounds” of legal aid remains in place for publicly funded mediation.

Lord McNally, Justice Minister, is working with the Family Mediation Council and the legal profession to address the issue, and says that the Ministry of Justice is fully aware of the dramatic decline in numbers of those using the service.

Resolution, a family lawyers’ group, have created a pledge agreeing to better help and support couples going through separation by ensuring they know about alternatives to going to Court, which McNally has signed.

Here at Bonallack and Bishop, we have been strong supporters of both family mediation and collaborative law as preferable alternatives to the traditional court approach to divorce for some considerable time. We suspect that one of the reasons that mediation hasn’t taken off as well as it should have done is that lack of sufficient awareness in the public at large. This website is an attempt to combat that lack of awareness.

Call our specialist Family Mediation and Collaborative Law Divorce Solicitors today

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