BBC Radio 4's You and Yours today covered family mediation. According to the programme, an average mediation costs £1,000 per person (Harmony Mediation's package fee is far more economically priced at £530 + VAT per person) in comparison with £3,000 per person for solicitors where there is no dispute. If the divorcing or separating couple have any disagreement about how to divide up the assets or about the children then the costs can escalate upwards to £10,000...£15,000..and beyond.
On Monday of this week a number of Harmony Mediation mediators attended a meeting where arrangements for the new single family court in Hertfordshire were outlined.
From 2nd September all private family law cases (eg divorce, child contact etc) will be handled by a central administration, at Watford and assigned to one of the four magistrates courts: St Albans, Stevenage, Hertford and Watford.
It is therefore very likely that most cases will go before a magistrate in the first instance.
Legal Aid is officially 64 years old. Subject to many revisions and changes over the years, it still continues to offer a source of support to those who cannot afford private legal fees.
There is much in the media at the moment about cuts to legal aid, but these relate to proposed cuts for criminal legal aid. Legal aid for family mediation is indeed alive and well, with an extra £10m allocated this year to help people going through divorce and separation or those with child contact issues.
In a strange case of unintended consequences recent reports show the family courts are overwhelmed at the same time as legal aid mediation services are finding it difficult to find clients. The publicly funded courts are 'at risk of collapse' under the burden of family conflict cases. Ironically, the also publicly funded legal aid mediation services , who could help these families have experienced a downturn in work.
Our new 'Your Don't Divorce Your Kids' Personalised Parenting Plan service will be launched shortly at our Hemel, St Albans and Stevenage offices.
This service is aimed at parents who are divorcing or separating. They may wish to use solicitors to handle the finance and property matters but would prefer to handle the children-related issues through mediation.
Coverage of the legal aid changes in the media rightly points out the end of legal aid for most divorce and child contact cases.
However, they fail to cover one important point: under the changes solicitors can provide FREE legal advice, paid for by legal aid, in the form of 'Help with Mediation' for those clients going through mediation.
A BBC News report highlights the 'Law Watchdog' findings about lawyers overcharging clients going through divorce. One client in the report was charged over £15,000 more than expected including a staggering £4,000 for photocopying.
The Chief Legal Ombudsman commented that acrimonious divorces were exploited by some unscrupulous lawyers to maximise their earnings "trying to get as much money as possible out of the individual client".
We've recently had clients ask us whether there is a difference between a specialist family mediator and a generalist mediator offering a form of family mediation.
Our answer is clear: family mediation is NOT like other forms of mediation and you should use a specialist trained, professional family mediator to deal with your divorce or separation and provide the specialist handling required.
Whoever you choose to support you through your divorce or separation you might like to consider the following in making your choice: