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Couples forced to ponder mediation

Couples forced to ponder mediation

A new judicial agreement will make it more difficult for couples to hand their problems over to the courts as ministers look to ease the strain on the overburdened system.

Couples entangled in complicated legal battles over children and money will be forced to consider resolving their problems via a mediation process before they go to the courts to settle what are often relatively minor disputes.

Mediation has been touted by justice minister Jonathan Djanogly as a "quicker, cheaper and more amicable alternative" to using courts.

The process will come into effect on April 6 after judges and the Ministry of Justice agreed to the deal, which was recommended in the Family Justice Review report. A similar arrangement is already in place for couples who receive legal aid.

A spokesman for the ministry said many people repeatedly go to court to argue over matters they are better-placed to sort out themselves, such as securing 30 minutes extra contact time with children or varying their allocated contact days.

About 137,000 such cases were dealt with in 2009, a rise of 16%, figures showed.

In cases where either party or the mediator feel that mediation will not be suitable, the cases will continue towards the court system.

Cases involving domestic violence or child protection issues will still bypass mediation and go straight to court.

Mediation was also cheaper than going to court, the ministry said, with data from legal aid cases showing the average cost per client of mediation as £535, compared with £2,823 for cases going to court.

The average time for a case using legally-aided mediation is 110 days, compared with 435 days for court cases on similar issues, National Audit Office figures showed.

Our Family and Matrimonial team helps families across West London and Bucks. For advice, contact a member of the team, call us on 01494 790007 or email enquiries@ibblaw.co.uk.