This rule already exists for couples using legal aid. Now it will be extended to all couples.

From 6th April onwards, the person disputing the divorce terms will have to go to a professional mediator who will then contact the other spouse and arrange a mediation awareness session. The divorcing couple can attend individually or together.

If they or the mediator decide that mediation is not appropriate then they will be able to proceed to court. However, they cannot go to court unless they can present evidence that they have attended the mediation awareness session.

The regulation does not apply to couples who do not need to use the courts to reach a settlement.

Nor does it apply in cases involving issues of domestic violence or child protection. Such cases can still proceed straight to court.

Mediation is an informal process in which a trained mediator, such as a solicitor, helps the couple to resolve difficult issues amicably.

The mediator can arrange meetings on neutral premises. The mediator’s role is to act as a facilitator to help the couple share information and reach an agreement. It is not to offer advice or favour one side or the other.

Once the couple reach agreement, the mediator will record it in two summaries. Both husband and wife should then give those summaries to their respective solicitors so they can form the basis of a consent order.

Government figures suggest that the average time for a case to be completed using mediation is 110 days. That compares with an average of 435 days for cases involving the courts. Mediation is also much cheaper with the average case costing £535 compared with £2,823 for those going to court.

Mediation may not be suitable for everyone but for thousands of couples it has already provided a way to reduce stress and heartache to a minimum.

Please contact Ruth Flowers if you would like more information about mediation or any aspect of family law.

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