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New mediation rules flawed but a step in the right direction, says Resolution

Resolution calls for the inclusion of other non-court options in information sessions

New rules on mediation for separating couples that came into force on Wednesday, 6 April have been broadly welcomed by Resolution. However, the family law association says that they contain worrying flaws because the Government has acted in indecent haste.

Under the changes, first announced in February, couples must first attend a meeting with a mediator to learn about mediation before either can make an application to court.

David Allison, Chair of Resolution, said:

"Mediation is a hugely valuable option for some separating couples, so increased awareness of it as a non-court option is good news. But the Government has rushed headlong into these changes in an unplanned way, which has led to some worrying flaws.

"Anyone can set themselves up as a mediator and the lack of a guarantee of the quality of mediators could leave some couples who lack a solicitor's advice ending up in the hands of unregulated or untrained, rogue mediators. There may also be a shortage of properly trained mediators given the new demand."

Resolution says that other non-court options, including collaborative law, parenting information programmes and solicitor negotiation, should all form part of any information session on non-court options.

A survey conducted at Resolution's national conference last weekend revealed that family lawyers were unanimous that the reforms didn't go far enough and that separating families should be able to access information about all the different ways they can resolve their differences not just mediation.

"Mediation is not suitable in all cases, and the best option will depend on individual circumstances. We should also remember that for some couples court is the right option, including when there is domestic abuse, intimidation or an imbalance of financial power. Mediation is a voluntary process and separating couples must both be willing to try it for it to have a chance of being successful," said David Allison.

The changes also come against the background of potential cuts to legal aid, which Resolution fears could create devastating consequences for families and children, and spiraling costs for taxpayers. Under these cuts, mediation will be the only legal aid funded option for separating families, even though it is not always appropriate.

"The Government's rushed changes to family law seem motivated by a desire to steer people away from professional legal advice. This is misguided, because a good solicitor will always discuss mediation and other non-court approaches with clients – which is one reason why 90 per cent of parents currently settle out of court," said David Allison.