Prior to changes to legal aid funding which took effect at the end of April this year, lawyers warned that removing many families from the scope of funding would create an intolerable burden on the court system.
The significance of lawyers in the process of referral to mediation (the government’s preferred approach for the resolution of family disputes) was largely ignored.
The majority of family lawyers recognise the value of families resolving matters, following a relationship breakdown, away from the court system through discussion, mediation, collaborative work and co-operation.
The majority of referrals to mediation are made by a solicitor on behalf of their client. Is it any surprise, therefore, in the month immediately following the removal of legal aid that there has been a marked increase in applications to the court and a decrease in the number of referrals to mediation? If individuals cannot access good sensible legal advice they may well feel the only option is an application to the court.
An application to the court may be or become the appropriate or only way of resolving disputes. However most people find the court process stressful, costly, time consuming and lengthy. It may not result in the outcome the individual wanted and along the way problems can become more entrenched and family relations worsen.
We believe that the important thing is finding the best approach for you – whether that’s mediation or collaborative work, joint meetings, negotiation and communication with another solicitor or direct with the other spouse or former partner. Court may be the answer but other than in particular emergency situations or where there is a risk of harm to an individual or child, it is certainly not the only answer and rarely should it be the first port of call.
If an application to the court is needed we, or any qualified lawyer, can deal with all aspects of making that application and representing you in court but the important point being missed is that, without access to experience and expertise, the plethora of other options can often be overlooked.