Birketts discuss the uses of family mediation and other dispute resolutions options…

A welcome spotlight has been thrown on family mediation thanks to the recent BBC documentary, Mr v Mrs: Call the mediator.

The legal profession is split over whether the programme was beneficial to the process of mediation and the role of mediators. Some believe that it shows mediators simplistically – not showing the intricacies of the role they undertake. Others believe that it was an insight into a previously unseen side of the family law process.

Any resource that shows clients the possible alternatives to court is a good thing. Despite solicitors working closely with mediators, they cannot fully understand the exact process. Often, when a client first comes to see a solicitor they are unaware of any options other than court. Sometimes their hurt is too raw for them to consider mediation. As emotional wounds of a relationship break down, the option to mediate remains open to clients.

The Government is also keen on mediation as an alternative to court. Amidst changes to the court process, together with the reduction of legal aid, the Government has made considering mediation compulsory in any family law application. Anyone considering initiating an application for the court to resolve issues regarding children or matrimonial finances has to first consider whether mediation is a viable option. Also, for low incomes, legal aid is available on a means tested basis.

‘Dispute resolution’ or the different ways in which clients can be assisted in coming to an outcome with their ex-partner, is a hot topic among solicitors, specifically those who are members of Resolution. Members of Resolution are encouraged to consider all options which would prevent a costly court, with litigation being the absolute last resort. Mediation is just one of the options open to modern family solicitors, with negotiated settlements; the collaborative process and Arbitration also available. Negotiated settlements are reached through communication with the other lawyer. If collaboration is used, all parties work together in a meeting to reach a resolution. Arbitration involves using an Arbitrator (or private judge) who provides a binding outcome, which is stressful than through the courts.

At Birketts, our solicitors are Resolution members and consider any options for dispute resolution – with court being the last resort. To find out more, please contact Lisa Churchill or another member of Birketts’ Family Law Team.

Lisa Churchill, Birketts LLP, Solicitor Tel:01223 326659