Court schedules are full to bursting. Couples who are divorcing have to wait months for a court hearing. At the same time, legal aid has been drastically cut for family law cases such as divorce. This means you may have to represent yourself in court. Without a legal expert to prepare and deliver your case, your case is likely to take up more time in court, adding yet more strain to the already overloaded system.
Changes to the law this year in order to alleviate this problem will require you to go to start the mediation process before applying for a court order for financial or child-related matters (there are exceptions, for example, cases that involve domestic violence). But is mediation the answer?
Mediation is a means of helping you and your ex-partner to work through problems that can be sensitive and complicated – financial settlements and childcare arrangements for example. A trained and impartial mediator will help you to see whether you can come to an agreement that you’re both prepared to live with, rather than having a court hearing and an outcome dictated to you by the judge. It should help you to feel more in control of the outcome and reduce the costs of your case. The agreement can then be made into a legally binding and enforceable court order.
Resolving issues through dialogue rather than court judgement is most often the best way forward. However, every case is different; mediation won’t suit everyone. Under the new proposals, only the applicant is required to attend mediation; the respondent does not have to. Needless to say, mediation is unlikely to be successful if all parties do not participate.
Most importantly, as you will be entering into discussions that will potentially lead to a legally binding agreement, it would be advisable to seek the help and advice of a solicitor, in tandem with the mediation process. Not doing so could mean that you agree to something that you later regret or that might lead you to being unfairly disadvantaged, something you wish you could undo, once it’s too late. Your solicitor is trained to spot potential difficulties and can advise you on the arrangements that are being proposed. So if you are considering mediation as an alternative to court resolution, consider also talking to your solicitor about the negotiations and their outcomes.