Legal Services Board to Investigate Online Divorce

The consumer watchdog for the legal industry, the Legal Services Consumer Panel, is to lead new research into the use of do it yourself online divorce offerings. It wants to look at both the risks and the challenges facing the legal firm given the increasing numbers of people logging on to do their legal work over the internet.

A few legal firms [and other non-lawyers] currently offer a download service for basic legal documents as part of their basic service, but new kids on the block such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer do nothing but create legal documents online for both individuals and business customers. It’s not completely new model, of course. You have been able to buy a blank will form from WH Smiths for just a few quid for decades now – but thankfully few people have been daft enough to take up that particular offer.

Along with the Legal Services Board, the consumer panel are to undertake new research into the online legal market and will speak to customers who have used online services to ask them to evaluate their experience. The report is expected to be out in the summer.

Many businesses and individuals still get legal advice in a traditional way, but online legal businesses are quickly starting to win a larger share of the market.

The consumer panel stressed that they understood why many people prefer to access divorce services online they are cheaper, quicker, more convenient and there is more choice. However, they also point out that there are some significant potential risks.

In response, the chairman of a leading online legal document company said that traditional law firms should be looking at the way they use online technology. Richard Cohen, who has in the past worked with Admiral Insurance and the AA, told an industry conference that he believed that many in the legal profession felt “threatened” by technological advances. He may be right. However technology doesn’t frighten us here at Bonallack and Bishop – we are convinced that technology will play an increasing role in the future production of legal documents – and that’s a good thing for consumers, provided, and this is a big proviso, that clients are getting the right advice they need. Just being provided with a blank form and being to get on with it yourself is certainly not the answer. It is being seen to see what the legal services consumer panel, and how the interests of consumers of legal services will be protected in the digital age.

However, while some areas of law will be increasingly driven by technology – divorce and family law may well buck the trend. Relationship breakdown involves often highly complex issues, not to mention strong emotions. For the foreseeable future, we think that family mediation will continue to form the best way forward for many separating couples.

Call our specialist Family Mediation and Collaborative Law Divorce Solicitors today

SALISBURY [01722] 422300

AMESBURY [01980] 622992

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MoJ plan huge PR exercise to improve numbers attending mediation

The Ministry of Justice have turned to the legal profession to ask for their help in increasing the public profile of family mediation in the face of figures which clearly show that the number of divorcing couples turning to mediation has fallen sharply since cuts in legal aid. The MoJ’s plan is to make sure that couples are aware of the options available to them to help resolve their difficulties out of Court.

Figures released by the MoJ show an alarming drop in the number of people using family law mediators. Since cuts to available legal aid in April 2013 – mediation costs were prior to then more or less covered by legal aid, but are now restricted to a single payment of between £150 – £350 – the number of couples turning to mediation in the first six month period fell by 51%, with lawyers turning to legal aid for “help with mediation claims” on just 20 occasions during this period.

These figures have been released following a “freedom of information” request to the MoJ. Lord McNally, former minister, made an appeal before Christmas to mediators trained through Resolution, the national organisation of professionals committed to helping people resolve their divorce and separation issues constructively, for them to assist the Government in raising mediation’s public profile.

McNally’s request came at a time when many believed that the MoJ’s intention was to try and remove lawyers as far as possible from divorce and separation disputes – an intention which it would seem is borne out by the figures released.

It has also been announced yet again that it will be made compulsory for divorcing couples to attend mediation before taking their differences to Court – but the truth is that this is not the case. In such disputes, the only person who can be obliged to attend an initial mediation information and assessment meeting is the applicant. As mediation’s success in any event hinges on the attitude of those attending, and a willingness to work towards a conciliatory conclusion, it is unlikely in the opinion of many working within mediation that any attempt to force people to attend will be successful.

Even now, mediation’s success rate is low, with just 12% of more than 75,000 people using mediation in 2012/13 resulting in an agreement being reached, highlighting how difficult it can be in practice to reach a settlement even in cases where couples are willing to try mediation’s conciliatory approach.

So as the number of people turning to mediation as an alternative to the Courts plummets, the MoJ is left with a huge PR exercise to raise its profile – and it may be that the scale of this job means that the PR has already come too late for many legal practices and their clients.

Call our specialist Family Mediation team now

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AMESBURY [01980] 622992

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Alternatives to Court are not being used by divorcing couples. Why?

Legal aid cuts may be to blame for a dramatic fall in the number of couples seeking to reach divorce settlement via so-called ADR – alternative dispute resolution – methods of dealing with legal disputes outside of the court system.

ADR solutions include family mediation and collaborative law. Figures released by the Ministry of Justice show that the number of divorcing couples attending ADR to try and reach agreement, rather than using the Courts, fell by close on 40% following changes to the legal aid system which have reduced the availability of public funding to assist with the costs of ADR.

There is a concern that as the cuts mean fewer people are taking proper legal advice, in turn fewer are being directed by solicitors towards non-Court based solutions to reach agreement and settlement in divorce and separation cases.

But as part of Family Dispute Resolution Week during November 2013, Resolution, the nationwide group of family lawyers and other family law specialists, commissioned a poll via ComRes which shows that whilst the legal aid cuts are partially responsible for the drop in the number of couples turning to ADR in a bid to avoid the costs and stress associated with pursuing divorce settlements through Court, a lack of public awareness of the options available to divorcing couples is also to blame.

Over 4,000 adults were interviewed during the poll, and a “worrying lack of awareness” of the existence of ADR solutions was evident, with “patchy understanding” and “ill based scepticism” amongst those taking part.

For some divorcing couples, making an application Court is the only way forward. However, for many other people, possibly even the majority, family mediation and collaborative law offer what are often better solutions to family law problems.

The Resolution commissioned poll revealed that:-

• Just 50% of those taking part would consider an ADR solution rather than going to Court if they were to divorce – but the same percentage said that they thought ADR was better for the “wellbeing of couples” and “better for the wellbeing of children”

• Only 23% felt that ADR solutions made the separation terms agreed “clear” to those involved

• Under 25% felt that ADR solutions “protect the rights of both parties”

• 36% did not actually know what Family Mediation was

Having couples going through divorce avoid the Court system is an admirable intention of the Government, but it seems that in practice legal aid cuts together with the fact that the alternatives are not widely known to the public will mean that the numbers taking advantage of ADR may remain low for some time.

Looking for a local Family Mediator? Call our specialist team today

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THE HISTORY OF FAMILY MEDIATION – Part 2

The back down

During the late 1990’s as the centrally led drive towards family mediation continued a number of developments occurred that eventually led to Government having to repeal the sections of the Family Law Act 1996 dealing with imposition of mediation. These developments included:

• A dearth of suitable mediators (the Law Society’s family mediation accreditation scheme wasn’t set up until 2000)

• The available family mediators being buried under an avalanche of people compelled to attend meetings to obtain legal aid but who had no intention of pursuing mediation and really wanted legal representation

• A sceptical, mediation averse legal sector, personified by solicitors who took advantage of people adopting the culturally traditional route of seeing a solicitor as a first step when divorcing to drip poison in their ears regarding mediation so that they would migrate back to litigation. It must be said that solicitors long after retained a marked scepticism regarding mediation’s ability to deal with complex financial agreements.

• Less than a third of the people referred to a mediation meeting by the Act, proceeded to use mediation to try to reach an agreement and of those who did only 45% achieved a settlement in children’s matters and even fewer, 34%, in financial matters.

The Government had found that encouragement and compulsion had failed to win the day for mediation in family law.

The fall out

The failure to legislate mediation into family law in the 1990’s left a mixed legacy. Initially, after a halcyon period of recruiting vast numbers of mediators in the anticipation of assured work, the sector found itself grossly over staffed and new mediation firms quickly went to the wall and many self-employed mediator sought other employment. However, the best in the field generally kept their heads above water and were, in the following decade, able to capitalise on the burgeoning acceptance of alternative dispute resolution in family law which had been kick-started by the state.

The initial mediation experiment in the 1990’s had highlighted the need for mediator-lawyers, a hybrid specialist who began to flourish as public acceptance for a divorce without the day in court slowly gained ground. This new breed tended to specialise in financial agreements whilst the non-lawyer mediators gravitated towards children’s agreements.

In the first decade of the twenty first century another alternative confrontational court settlements arrived from the USA in the form of collaborative law. Inevitably this initially drew work away from mediation, although it quickly became apparent to specialist family solicitors that their clients circumstances would generally suit one approach better that the other and so the competition between them was fleeting.

UK Family Mediation – Today and tomorrow

Family mediation currently has a relatively small but growing presence and it is recognised by experts in the field that it could potentially be used in many more cases than it currently is. That it is growing is down to the initially suspicious, verging on hostile, attitude of the legal profession to this form of ADR twenty years ago coming around one eighty degrees over the last decade with the best interests of their clients securing a complete ascendency on their ethical tick list.

The future of non-directive mediation is still not assured. The options open to divorcing couples continue to grow with the recent introduction of directive mediation on the Australian model and the consequences of the Directive of the European Parliament and of the European Council of 21 May 2008 on Certain Aspects Of Mediation In Civil And Commercial Matters (2008/52) (which has been adopted by the UK government) still to be fully felt.

Under the Children’s and Families Bill, currently (2013) winding its way through Parliament, parties will be legally required, before applying to the Family Court, to attend a ‘Mediation information and assessment meeting’ (MIAM) or demonstrate that they are exempt from such attendance or that it family mediation is not suitable for them. And so, what goes around comes around and whether this latest legislative change will be any more successful at motivating people to ‘go the whole hog’ with mediation than previous attempts remains to be seen.

Looking for a local Family Mediator? Call our specialist Family Mediation team today

SALISBURY [01722] 422300   

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ANDOVER [01264] 364433                

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Family mediation drop off - MoJ response

If you are one half of a couple going through the difficulties of separation at the moment, are you aware of how a well trained family mediator can help? According to figures released by mediator Marc Lopatin, quite possibly not.

These figures show a dramatic decline in the number of couples using the service and have resulted in the Ministry of Justice seeking to strengthen its strategy relating to mediation.

Lopatin, founder of the organisation Lawyer-Supported Mediation, has obtained figures following a freedom of information request. They show that 14,758 couples attended mediation information and assessment meetings [known as MIAMS] during the period June to September 2012 – but this number fell to just 7,170 during the corresponding period in 2013. In other words, in the six month period since legal aid cuts were introduced in April 2013, the number of couples going through separation attending these initial mediation sessions fell by a surprising 51% – and between July and September, attendance fell by 58% on the previous year.

During the period July to September 2013, Bristol, Birmingham, Brighton, Manchester and Nottingham all saw monthly year on year falls of two –thirds in the numbers attending such sessions.

The figures compiled by Lopatin imply that the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act had the effect of halving the numbers of referrals for mediation within just a month of coming into force.

Mediation – the need for increased public awareness

Lopatin’s view is that the nosediving numbers allied with an increase in the number of people seeking to represent themselves indicates that separating couples fail to find family mediation “sufficiently compelling” as an option, despite the fact that the Ministry of Justice budgeted for a significant rise in the number of people choosing to opt for mediation to help them resolve separation issues.

However, a growing number of mediators feel that the main reason why mediation is not more widely used is a simple one – couples are not aware of it as an option, or do not fully understand how the process can help them, and in some cases both. This view seems to be reinforced by the Ministry of Justice, who have a poster and leaflet campaign underway to increase public awareness of mediation. The Ministry have emphasised that “millions of pounds” of legal aid remains in place for publicly funded mediation.

Lord McNally, Justice Minister, is working with the Family Mediation Council and the legal profession to address the issue, and says that the Ministry of Justice is fully aware of the dramatic decline in numbers of those using the service.

Resolution, a family lawyers’ group, have created a pledge agreeing to better help and support couples going through separation by ensuring they know about alternatives to going to Court, which McNally has signed.

Here at Bonallack and Bishop, we have been strong supporters of both family mediation and collaborative law as preferable alternatives to the traditional court approach to divorce for some considerable time. We suspect that one of the reasons that mediation hasn’t taken off as well as it should have done is that lack of sufficient awareness in the public at large. This website is an attempt to combat that lack of awareness.

Call our specialist Family Mediation and Collaborative Law Divorce Solicitors today

SALISBURY [01722] 422300          

AMESBURY [01980] 622992   

ANDOVER [01264] 364433                

OR e-mail our team using the email contact form below

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THE HISTORY OF FAMILY MEDIATION – Part 1

The history lesson

Mediation is recognised, by way of anthropological, historical and sociological research, to have had its roots in ancient times. It is the time honoured form of dispute resolution which has been practiced around the globe for millennia, its longevity a result of its effectiveness and adaptability down through the ages, across a range of cultures and civilisations. It still remains the principle method for resolving disputes in East Asia, especially in China and Japan where its extensive use enables the use of litigation to be reduced to the very minimum.

Family mediation – seemed like a good idea at the time

Mediation’s partnership with family law was encouraged by the Government in the United Kingdom for exactly that same reason; to reduce the escalating cost, both financial and psychological, that a rapidly rising UK divorce rate in the 1980’s and 90’s coupled the tradition of court determined divorce settlements was having on individuals and society as a whole.

Fired up by what turned out to be a wildly over optimistic assumption that the public if offered mediation would naturally prefer that route to confrontational, costly court action, the UK Government opened the way for publically funded family mediation by passing the Family Law Act 1996. The drive for mediation driven divorce agreements ran into many problems which included:

• The Government’s effort was perceived as being over centralised, one-size-fits-all and restrictive in both scope and time allocation.

• Responses from those who took part in the initial tranche of mediation information meetings were generally negative and included:

  •  A feeling that mediation was unnecessary as there was little or nothing to dispute in reaching a settlement
  •  One partner refusing to attend mediation
  • Too much distrust between partners to make mediation viable
  •  A cultural preference for instructing a lawyer and going to court

Out of the 7000-9000 people who attended the information meetings only 10% decided to attempt alternative dispute resolution in the form of mediation. Of that adventurous 10% only 37% found that it led to agreements being reached and in a great many cases only with the involvement of solicitors. It began to look as if the great mediation revolution was about to be stillborn.

A natural aversion to change?

Further research by the UK Government discovered that people’s attitude to family mediation became increasingly negative in the absence of sufficient information about the process and that they were apt to confuse it with counselling and reconciliation. Further the majority appeared to have a culturally embedded preference for lawyer managed divorce settlements and would cite the same reasons for avoiding mediation such as:

• Lack of issues to mediate.

• Good communication existing between the parties.

• Only one party willing to consider mediation.

• That divorce is too legal complex for mediation.

• One or both parties nurturing an obsession with protecting their own interests to the point of believing that only legal representation is appropriate for them.

The Government had proposed that mediation was to be publically funded by way of legal aid and that such legal aid would not be granted unless the applicants attended mediation meetings. There were exceptions to this regarding domestic violence and until more became available, the actual availability of mediators.

Call our specialist Family Mediation today

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AMESBURY [01980] 622992

ANDOVER [01264] 364433                

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Modest growth for family mediation

New government measures have resulted in a significant slowdown in the growth of family mediation, a popular form of dispute resolution which avoids much of the acrimony, expense and delay associated with traditional court proceedings.

In April, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into effect meaning that legal aid (public funding) was cut significantly by the coalition government with over 250,000 private law cases suddenly falling outside the scope of public funding. Despite the funds this freed up, only £10m extra was directed towards family mediation. In 2011 the pre-action protocol was introduced dictating that those receiving public funding for divorce must attend mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAM) before they can apply to court for the resolution of child or finance related issues and those who fund divorce privately are expected to do the same.

One may assume that this protocol would lead to higher numbers of mediation cases but the opposite happened. There were far fewer mediation cases in April, May and June and many specialist family mediators reported falls of over 60% in their monthly pay packets.

The government has also been accused of failing to make the public aware of the advantages offered by family mediation. Aside from a short YouTube video about mediation, little effort was made to promote it. Whilst the huge cuts to legal aid have been well-publicised, little is known about family mediation and many assumed that public funding had been withdrawn in this area as well.

A major issue for family mediators is that the rules surrounding MIAMs are not properly understood and often not properly enforced. For the past 2 years, protocol has dictated that it is ‘expected’ that those who are privately funding family law cases will attend a MIAM. However, by failing to make this compulsory, couples have been able to completely overlook family mediation, instead going on to clog up the court system with lengthy and expensive disputes. Furthermore, FM1 forms – which register the attendance of a couple or detail why they did not attend – are often not filled out and presented alongside the court application as is the legal requirement. Indeed, in order for the protocol to work, the courts need to enforce the rules more rigidly and ensure that applications are not granted if forms are not submitted or valid reasons are not given for not attending MIAMs.

The situation may improve because the incoming Children and Families Bill will make it a legal requirement for all couples to attend MIAMs. Unfortunately, this act is not due to come into force until spring 2014.

Nearly 100,000 people receiving public funding have made use of family mediation for the resolution of their family disputes in the last half a decade. Whilst there are no figures for the number of qualified mediators, one can only hope that individuals will not be put off training for their qualifications due to the recent struggles of mediators.

Looking for experienced family mediators? Call us now

Although family mediation has not been as widely used in recent months as family lawyers expected, it is nevertheless a highly effective form of dispute resolution which is generally faster and less acrimonious than traditional court divorce. For more advice on family mediation from family law experts, call:

SALISBURY [01722] 422300

AMESBURY [01980] 622992

ANDOVER [01264] 364433

OR e-mail our team at advice@familymediationcollaborativelaw.co.uk

 

The Success of Family Mediation in Other Countries

A global brand

Family mediation is now available around the globe, in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas. The ability of this alternative dispute resolution method to put down roots over the last thirty both regionally and nationally has undeniably been inconsistent, but its geographic spread has been inexorable and in some countries it has blossomed and been fully integrated into the framework of family law.

A home grown US success story?

Family mediation in divorce was first officially recognised and associated into a legal framework in California in 1939. It has since become a fixture in the United States being mandatory in thirteen states and discretionary in twenty two. Interestingly in the states where its employment is mandatory, family mediation has achieved the highest success rates.

Its universal acceptance as a resource in the United States has not however caused it to be looked upon as a serious alternative to representation by a lawyer by either the general public or the legal profession itself. It is still perceived, perhaps as a throwback to its originals during the Great Depression, as being the poor person’s alternative to the law. That said practitioners outside of the US, still look on that country as the spiritual home of family mediation and it is still recognised as a hotbed of innovative developments in the field.

The European experience

The progress and success of family mediation in Europe has had a somewhat more chequered history than in North America. It has however followed more or less the same developmental path in each European country it has reached over the last three decades but with drastically different success outcomes. Ideas were generally picked up upon from areas of the world where family mediation was already being practiced and introduced on a wave of euphoric enthusiasm, by practitioners who rapidly formed themselves into professional organisations.

From that point onwards the fortunes of family mediation varied greatly from country to country. In some it was quickly recognised as a viable alternative to the adversarial court system, eventually receiving legal regulation or absorption into various other regulatory or best practice frameworks. In other countries it languished, ignored by government and the legal profession and operating on a small scale private basis albeit with not an insignificant number of extremely highly trained mediation specialists at its disposal.

Currently (2013) is possible to zone the levels of utilisation of family mediation across Europe in the following ways:

Family mediation – levels of utilisation across Europe

Area Era of introduction Incorporated into legislation or other regulatory frameworks? Use/awareness

In Eastern Europe, family mediation was introduced in the 1980’s but awareness and use of it has remained low.

The same is true of Southern Europe where (excluding Spain) the use and awareness of family mediation has been low.

In Spain there has been fairly high use and awareness of mediation which has become firmly embedded in legislation.

The same is true of Scandinavia which only introduced mediation in the 1990’s but has experienced a very positive response towards it. In Northern Europe there were mixed reactions.

False dawns and compulsion

There have been shining examples of progress in gaining a greater acceptance for the use of family mediators around the world. Sometimes these have proved to be flashes in the pan, false dawns such as France’s hosting of the first European conference on family mediation in 1990 only for the country to experience two decades of foot dragging by the legislature and legal profession before family mediation was considered a general component in family proceedings – and it still not widely used.

Occasionally though there has been progress that has resulted in a national step change of opinion as has been the case in Australia with family mediation’s elevation into the national spotlight in The Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006. Other countries, such as Austria, Belgium and UK have successfully embedded (or are in the process of doing so) the use of family mediation into legislation

People like to sit on the spot

Generally however, it has so far proved that only where exposure to family mediation is mandatory does it gain the exposure, cultural acceptance (sometimes) and significant success rates that would signify that it has fulfilled anything near its full potential. Where is not mandatory, it tends not be sought, used or particularly successful. We are all seemingly still firmly wedded to the idea that you need legal representation to divorce, even when a far more effective and less bruising alternative would suit some of us much better.

Call our mediation experts on [01722] 422300

The family law mediators here at Bonallack & Bishop can help you with the mediation process.

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Ringwood Family Mediation and Collaborative Law

Everything changes when you get divorced. Your financial situation becomes uncertain and you are likely to see your children less than you used to. It is therefore crucial that you and your ex-partner make fair arrangements during your divorce proceedings and avoid falling into the bitter disputes that so often plague separating couples. By using family mediation or collaborative law you can avoid the acrimony, cost and delay so often associated with traditional divorce proceedings saving yourself great strain and dignity in the process. Here at Bonallack & Bishop, we are committed to mediation and collaborative law and can help separating couples in Ringwood achieve fair resolutions for their divorce disputes.

FAMILY LAW ADVICE TO SEPARATING COUPLES IN RINGWOOD

Couples who are willing to sit down with each other in the company of specialist family lawyers in order to resolve their disputes accordantly often find that family mediation and collaborative law saves them a considerable amount of money in legal fees due to the greater ease with which solutions can be found. However, couples who will simply argue with each other throughout the divorce process and are unwilling to cooperate will not benefit from the process.

CONTACT OUR FAMILY MEDIATION AND COLLABORATIVE LAW EXPERTS ON [01722] 422300

If your separation, divorce or civil partnership dissolution is appropriate for either of these dispute resolution method our fully accredited collaborative lawyers and jointly trained lawyers/family mediators will be able to tell.

Both your initial telephone advice and your first 30-minute appointment are FREE of charge, so why delay?

Call [01722] 422300 and get your first phone consultation FREE of charge, on top of your FREE first 30 minutes appointment.

Alternatively, you can reach us via email at advice@familymediationcollaborativelaw.co.uk

Blandford Family Mediation and Collaborative Law

When divorce is mentioned, many people immediately think of bitterness, argument, expense and a lengthy battle over finances and contact with children. Thankfully, divorce need not be like this. Bonallack & Bishop’s team of family law experts firmly believes that divorce need not be so draining and by using family mediation and collaborative law we have been able to help many families resolve the disputes arising from their divorces more swiftly, amicably and cost-effectively than would have been possible through traditional divorce proceedings.

CALL BONALLACK & BISHOP FOR BLANDFORD FAMILY MEDIATION OR COLLABORATIVE LAW ADVICE

Couples who believe that they can talk through their issues in order to reach practical solutions could make great gains using family mediation or collaborative law. These methods of dispute resolution provide platforms for separating spouses, cohabiting couples or civil partners to reach solutions together with the aid of expert legal professionals. However, these methods are not for everyone and couples who will argue bitterly throughout the divorce process should go through the courts.

CALL [01722] 422300 FOR MEDIATIONSPECIALISTS

If you live in Blandford and you would like to learn more about either of these dispute resolution methods, contact one of our fully trained collaborative lawyers or family mediators today.

As well as receiving FREE advice the first time you call, you will get a FREE first appointment with one of our experts.

Phone [01722] 422300 or

Send an email to advice@familymediationcollaborativelaw.co.uk.