With relationship breakdown and separation rising around this time of year, people are faced with tough decisions and the possibility of a significant legal bill if they take their separation through the courts. Many people view the courts as the only option to sort out their divorce, financial situation, child welfare & contact but mediation is a much more cost effective and speedy solution.
Over the last few years there has been a government push to encourage separating couples to attempt mediation before a divorce and associated proceedings are commenced. This is because the Government seek to significantly reduce the amount of financial relief proceedings brought before the courts and are encouraging couples to reach an agreement between themselves rather than having the matter determined by a judge.
Mediation is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (commonly referred to as ADR) and aims to resolve the dispute between the separating parties without the matter being heard by a court. There are a number of advantages to mediation over court proceedings. Mediation is a less adversarial approach to the dispute and means the separating couple agree on the outcome rather than having one imposed by the court which one party may be unhappy with; it takes the winner and loser nature out of the dispute and means the parties leave mediation with a settlement to which they are both agreeable.
There are other positives to mediation such as the cost and the timescale at which the dispute will be resolved. The telegraph recently reported that:
‘Figures for legal aid cases show that the average cost of using mediation is about £500, compared with £4,000 for issues that are settled through the courts. The average time for a mediated case is 110 days and 435 days for non-mediated cases’.
The figures also show that legal aid cases resolved by mediation are, on average, dealt with four times quicker than a case taken to court. When you consider that these proceedings are often very distressing for both parties, resolution in a shorter period of time is likely to be an attractive option for the parties. With the government ploughing a further £10 million into mediation services this year we will no doubt see an increase of separating couples using mediation to resolve their dispute.
But will this further £10 million ploughed into mediation services help you? The answer is maybe, if you are eligible for legal aid (click here to go to the online calculator to see if legal aid can assist you). However, from 1st April 2013 the Government has announced significant cuts to legal aid which will significantly reduce its availability. Sadly, this will mean that many people throughout the UK will not qualify for legal aid in respect of family law matters.
So what can you do if you aren’t eligible for legal aid? Many people may try to represent themselves however this is obviously far from convenient and for some people simply not possible. The law is certainly not something you can learn over night and there are serious consequences for litigants in person that attempt to represent themselves and get it hopelessly wrong.
So if you don’t qualify for legal aid where does this leave you? Surely you need the best advice for the least amount of money?
At Laker Legal Solicitors our business model means that our hourly rates and fixed fees are hugely lower than the average high street Solicitors practice (typically around one third less). We also provide mediation services in respect of children property and financial matters during separation and divorce. Richard Hirst is a specialist practitioner member of the Law Society`s Family Mediation Panel. Richard Hirst has helped thousands of couples reach mutually acceptable terms of settlement and is one of the most experienced Solicitor Mediators in the North West of England.