You may have seen in the news recently that separating couples will be ‘forced’ to attend mediation before they are ‘allowed’ to use the courts.
The Government says mediation is often ‘quicker, cheaper and less confrontational’ than going to court.
However, this news is misleading: when the rules come in to force on 6th April 2011 there will be a requirement that couples are told about mediation. This is being called an Information and Assessment session, to find out whether mediation can help. The cost of the session has been predicted in the media to be £40 upwards.
Where there are allegations of abuse or child protection concerns the Government says there will be no requirement to access mediation and the case can progress straight to court.
However, the Government guidelines state attendance is not required when there is domestic abuse only if it has resulted in police involvement (see Annex C).
Yet most incidents of abuse do not result in police involvement. And, whether there is abuse or not, mediation has been shown to disadvantage women so that women can be coerced in to agreeing arrangements which are not best for the child.
So what can women whose ex partners are abusive or controlling do? Attendance is also not required if the mediator decides the case is not suitable. When an application to family proceedings (ie to the family court) is made a mediator will be required to complete a form called a Mediation Information and Assessment Form, and there is a box to tick if he/ she thinks mediation would be unsuitable. The form must be signed by the mediator, and either the applicant (yourself) or your solicitor.
If you have a solicitor they can advise you, but must act according to your instruction. Therefore you have the right to decide whether the Mediation Assessment session would be suitable for you to attend.
Access to the family courts is protected by the Human Rights Act – we all have the right to access justice – and therefore everyone has the right to turn to the famly courts for help in resolving diffuculties with child care arrangements. Mediation is therefore an option, but no one can be forced to go.
‘The Parent Trap’
A recent announcement to consider share parental leave after the birth of a child has caused wide spread debate about equality in the work place and at home.
Changes in parental leave are part of a report, launched by Nick Clegg, which looks at the pressures on parents and how to make things better. Whilst noting that children tend to do better if the father is involved, the research clarifies that ‘it is the quality and stability of … relationships in a family that influences children’s outcomes, rather than a particular type of family structure’ (page 164).
Therefore, as long as children are in stable, nurturing environment, one type of family structure isn’t any better than any other.
Parents were asked why they were the main carer. 83% of mums said they wanted to be, 67% said it made better financial sense (the gender pay gap at work here) and 27% of women reported that they were the main carer because their partner didn’t want to be.
Research shows shared care (if parents separate) tends to be more successful if fathers have been more involved with their children’s lives before separation. Unfortunately, the family courts are not currently required to look at a father’s history of involvement. We have informed the Family Law review on how this can have a major impact on conflict and children’s well being when parents separate.