From today various changes in family law are coming in to force. There has already been a great deal of change in recent times in family law with the removal of legal aid for most family matters – although it is important to note that legal aid is still widely available for mediation to resolve family matters. The main three changes are:
1. From today the Statement of Arrangements for Children form will no longer be completed and submitted to the court. This was done previously so the court could check that arrangements had been made for children. Now the court will assume that arrangements have been put in place for any children of a divorcing couple unless it’s told otherwise.
2. In addition to this a new single family court has been created combining the previous 3 tiers of family courts.
3. From today it will also be a requirement that any separating couple try to work things out in mediation prior to making an application to the court.
But what do these changes really mean for you if you are in the process of separating or getting divorced?
In essence the government wants all separating couples to take responsibility for making arrangements for their children and for themselves – preferably without burdening the court system. It costs a lot of money to run the court system and the courts are currently struggling to deal with the increased numbers of people representing themselves because they can no longer obtain legal aid to instruct a solicitor. The government is keen to reduce this burden if at all possible.
Clearly for most people there are large advantages to avoiding the court system given that it is usually time consuming, expensive and often results in an outcome that neither party is particularly happy with. People involved in the court system can often feel that the process is a straight jacket and they are not free to look at what is really important to them. Yet it can seem onerous and difficult to talk directly to your wife or husband and work together to try to achieve a resolution. Parties can feel that they will never reach an agreement, or that the other person will never take on board their point of view.
This is where mediation can be hugely helpful in assisting couples with talking things through. A lawyer mediator will be able to provide lots of information about the divorce process and this can help focus a couple’s discussions in a constructive way. Mediators can help to move discussions along when they get stuck, and can provide helpful summaries of what has been discussed, and information that has been provided.
Mediators can also explain the various options that are open to you which you may not have considered. Mediation does not take the place of independent legal advice but it can be one of the best forums for discussion for couples who want to resolve matters quickly and as amicably as possible. In circumstances where it is now compulsory to try mediation (save in some exceptional circumstances) why not try it at an early stage so that you can avoid recourse to the court and be empowered and motivated to find your own tailor made resolution?