Tag Archives: mediation services

The Huge Cost of Court Proceedings

The chairman of the Laura Ashley  Khoo Kay Peng has been ordered by the High Court this February to make an offer to Pauline Chai his estranged wife to end legal battle that has  cost him £6.1million in legal costs. Mr Justice Bodey gave his lawyers a 21 day ultimatum.

The case which at one stage was also running  in Malaysia, is one of the most expensive divorce cases ever to come before the UK courts.

Costs began to increase dramatically when Khoo fought and lost a bid to have the divorce decided in the Malaysian courts. Chai, who was Miss Malaysia 1969, won the argument that London was the appropriate location.

The Judge ordered “open offers of settlement” to be made by both sides, and said at a case management hearing: “I am striving to exercise some control over this titanic case. Otherwise the case will inevitably proceed on its expensive way to the detriment of the parties and the court’s resources. The actual resolution of the finances of this couple, who have more money between them than they could spend in their lifetimes, has unfortunately taken a second seat. The legal costs bill is going on for £6m at a stage where the case has barely reached the first fence.”


Chai, 69, alleged that Koo,77, was worth more than £440 million and earned £5.4 million a year. They have five grown up children and she maintains that she is entitled to half of his fortune. He disputes her claim and maintains that his assets are worth £66 million.

The couple married in December 1970 and separated on Valentine’s Day 2013. A decree nisi was pronounced in January this year and is due to be made absolute later this month.

They bought their first property in England – Wentworth Park – in 1995, and then five years later acquired the 1,000-acre Rossway Park estate at Berkhamstead. Khoo has indirect interests in a variety of businesses through two holding companies in Malaysia as well as substantial holdings in Laura Ashley and Corus Hotels.

Although the figures and costs are extreme many couples who navigate financial proceedings within divorce in this country will be all too familiar with the huge cost of court proceedings to them. If a case reaches or nears a final hearing both parties can incur upwards of tens of thousands in legal costs and certainly many thousands for the first few hearings.

Here at Focus we offer mediation as an alternative route to resolve these disputes by allowing a separating couple to discuss various options with a trained mediator thus avoiding lengthy court battles and the stress that this entails. Throughout the process they both work with the mediator to help them reach an agreement that they are both comfortable with. Mediation gives the couple a degree of control over the speed and cost and is quicker and less expensive than court proceedings. Some couples prefer to have their lawyers with them at mediation. This can be arranged with a dual trained Focus mediator able to use the One Day civil model of mediation, which results in a binding agreement being drawn up by the lawyers on the day.

For more information please click on our website.

Tara Deegan

Mediation in Oxford: Fast and Affordable: An Outbreak of Sanity for Separating Couples.

Mediation has been around for at least thirty years and is now used by a vast proportion of separating couples. It is actively promoted by the government and the courts as the preferred way for couples to sort out their separation. Oxford judges frequently recommend couples to mediation instead of battling it out in their over-crowded Family Court. They will not start a new case unless the couple has first met with a mediator to find out about mediation. Here is a guide to what is involved when you come to Focus Mediation in Oxford.


You start by coming to a MIAM: a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. This is time spent alone with your Focus mediator, who will want to understand what has happened to you. She then explains the process of mediation. You can come to the MIAM on separate occasions, or you can come as a couple: either way, you get time alone with the mediator and a full explanation of what lies ahead.

Once you had your MIAM, the joint sessions start, spaced to suit you, your timetables and what you can afford. These sessions give you a safe, neutral environment in which you can tackle your issues: the kids, the money, where you are each going to live.

You might start with a session working out a timetable for sharing caring for the children. Or you might launch straight in to disclosing your finances to each other, so that your mediator can write up your Financial Statement; then, when you can see what you’ve got, your mediator will help you make a plan: sell the house, or transfer it to one of you, or keep the house until the children are older and sell it later; set an appropriate level of maintenance … whatever seems best for your particular case, bearing in mind all your circumstances, including the local problems presented by living in an expensive part of the world like Oxford. Focus Mediators are also family lawyers: they know what the solicitors will be looking for and what the court is likely to approve. They can give you helpful legal information to inform your decision-making. You need not feel lost and frightened.

Once you have agreed all the aspects of your settlement (and preferably taken your solicitor’s advice on the proposals), your mediator will record them, and they will be handed to the solicitors who can turn them into a Consent Order, sealed by the Judge. This makes your agreement binding and makes any pension share happen, if you are divorcing. If you are an unmarried couple splitting up then your solicitor can make the agreement binding in another way, so it cannot be re-opened later.

You might have three, four or five joint sessions, depending on how many issues there are to cover and how co-operative you can both be. Focus mediators work fast and effectively: they are dedicated to helping you reach a settlement as quickly and cheaply as possible. Their reputation depends on it!

Focus charges £100 + VAT for each MIAM or £150 + VAT for a joint MIAM, then £125 + VAT per person per hour, with concessionary rates for people on low incomes. The cost per person of a full mediation is usually between £200 each (single session of 1 ½ hours at concessionary rates, no documents) and £1,300 each (4 sessions and two documents on a fully successful mediation at £125 ph). Legal Aid is also available (unlike solicitors, who can no longer offer it).

If you are separating and live in or around Oxford, it would be sensible to come to meet Caroline Friend, Senior Mediator at Focus Mediation. The office is in Summertown at Prama House on South Parade. Caroline can help you quickly and affordably in a matter of weeks, and avoid the horrendous costs and delays involved in court proceedings. Doesn’t that sound like the sane thing to do?

Bring Back the Calderbank – Stop Mad Litigation

A few years ago when people divorced they were encouraged to make offers to settle that were “Without Prejudice Save As To Costs”. These were known as Calderbank offers, after the name of the divorce case in which they were first made. The idea was you made these without prejudice offers that the judge would see at your appointment to try and settle the case – and they would try to use them to help people settle. There’d also be open offers that the judge would see. These would usually be very positional, by which I mean they’d be at the extreme end of what was likely to be the outcome, so were pretty useless – and we still have them.


People are afraid to tell the judge what they’d really pay to settle in case s/he plays split the difference and they end up with an unfair settlement. So there’d be this hidden second tier of offers called the Calderbanks. These were always without prejudice, which meant the judge at trial didn’t get to see them and they couldn’t prejudice his or her decision-making. These Calderbank offers were a very serious matter. People had to put their money where their mouth was. If you put in a good Calderbank offer, then the other side was at risk of having to pay your costs from one month after the Calderbank offer was made. You’d usually get your costs if your Calderbank offer was better than the trail judge’s award – so if you beat the judgment, you got your costs. This really focused minds. Your lawyers would tell you if they thought you might end up having to pay the other side’s costs. It made people think and make sensible offers. It made a lot of cases settle earlier than they do now.

 These days there are no costs consequences to taking up an unreasonable position, as each side pays their own costs. Now people can just mouth any old rubbish, be as unreasonable as they like, yet still each side must normally pay their own costs. The total costs are paid from the assets before they’re split, so effectively you pay half of the total costs each – or half of each other’s costs. This can be a bit unfair if one party has very expensive lawyers or is unrepresented, but it’s just how it works. There is no incentive to be reasonable.

 In non family civil cases, people still have the equivalent of the Calderbank offer system. It does help prevent unreasonable negotiating positions. I think we should bring it back and didn’t agree with its removal in the first place, as it allows people to hold out for unfair negotiating positions with impunity. It forces the reasonable person to go to trial or settle for less than they should get, with no costs consequences. Mad!

Bloody mindedness

When people are hurt, they often like to hurt back.

An eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth and all that. If s/he left me to go off with that bastard/bitch, they must suffer for it. They will suffer, I’ll make sure of it, even if I lose out too, it will be worth it!  Does anyone ever say that in mediation? Rarely if ever, but they may think it and take up inexplicable negotiating positions or prolong arguments over nothing. They can be very bloody minded over sorting the simplest things out. There are reasons for this, such as they cannot let go of the relationship, cannot leave the connection with their ex, they are desperate to ‘win’ so have to keep fighting, they want to have the ‘last word’ and/or their fury fuels the conflict and then the conflict finds an outlet in:

  • Quarrelsome solicitors’ letters setting out endless arguments about anything and everything, much of may be it immaterial to settling the important issues like who gets the house or is it sold, what happens about pensions and the maintenance? If people fight over silly things you know you are in trouble, so the food mixer or kettle is an indication they are dredging the bottom of the barrel and this is caused by their feelings, not the importance of the bottom of the barrel.
  • Putting forward extremely unfair positions that would make the other person lose out massively (punishment, ‘make them suffer’)
  • And worst of all, arguing through the children, using them as weapons and instruments of revenge, getting them ‘onside’ and trying to turn them against their other parent.
"Divorce Your Loved One With Dignity" Bob Willoughby © , Frank Sinatra, on the Warner Brothers set of Marriage On The Rocks, 1965

Bob Willoughby © Frank Sinatra, on the Warner Brothers set of Marriage On The Rocks, 1965

On the surface you have an argument, often translated into a legal narrative of this statute and these cases, versus a countering position and cases. That is the lawyers’ attempts to try and reduce the fighting into something logical, with rational arguments that can be explained and reasoned. Mostly the parties don’t give a damn about all that, what they mind about is getting back at the bastard/ bitch who has ruined their life. This isn’t every case by any means, but it is common enough to be classified as a type of case I think of as ‘Bloodymindedness’.

If you know someone who has embarked on a divorce in this manner and you really care about them, you won’t simply listen to their rantings, you’ll gently question some of their statements and turn some of their thoughts on their head. For example, you might ask what the costs of fighting have been so far and talk about the type of holiday, car or suchlike they could have bought for that instead. If they blame it all on the other person, you might ask them what they did to try to change the dynamic. If they have tried, and many will have done, you might observe it is very difficult to get two warring people to make peace simultaneously, as they often both try, but at different times and get a bad response.

The beauty of mediating your settlement, arrangements for the children, divorce, whatever, is you go off from your first session together with a shared action-plan and joint commitment to changing boundaries and behaving differently. You can develop functional separated boundaries, with some rules you put in place about what ever is causing difficulty. Solicitors’ letters will not accomplish that. Mediation can turn things around and put you on a better path, people need to understand about that possibility, because it is game changing, and thank goodness for it.

Think of it as an escape hatch from misery for families who are splitting up.

Financial Settlements on Family Breakdown – How to Get it Done.

Mediators and lawyers have their own role to play in helping you to reach decisions following on from your separation.  Most of the hard work is done by you both during the mediation sessions.  The two of you will discuss the issues that need to be resolved, with the help of the mediator.  The mediator is there to help you to communicate in a constructive way while your respective lawyers will help you individually by advising you about the proposals.   They can then translate the settlement proposals into a legally binding agreement or submit it to the court for the court’s approval.

An out of court settlement is something you often hear about.  It is a settlement that is often reached within the mediation process.  It can then be endorsed and approved by the court to make it legally binding.

two mannequins fighting over 100 dollars

For a financial settlement to be binding it is important that both of you disclose to each other your respective financial positions.   This would be the same whether your settlement was reached through mediation, through solicitors or through court.  You cannot come to an agreement if you don’t know what the assets and incomes are.  This process is called full financial disclosure.  You are then able to have discussions and negotiate a settlement   Even in court most settlements are reached through discussion and negotiation rather than the Judge making your decisions for you.  In mediation, you can go straight to those discussions after the financial disclosure stage, without waiting for the court to give you appointments and paying for costly court fees, and solicitors’ and barristers’ costs.

Just because you and your ex can’t communicate doesn’t mean that you have to go to court.  Mediation can help you look at how your relationship can be improved to enable you to resolve your issues, particularly communication.  You can become more co-operative and make your own decisions together.  The benefit of mediation is that it is the two of you who will be making the decisions about you and your children, rather than having a Judge decide what is best for your future.

Do you think that you will be better able to communicate if you have solicitors writing letters between you?  No, I suspect not too.  Often what you said and what you meant can get misunderstood or blurred by using a third party.  The advantage of mediation is that you are both putting forward your views and the other can listen and respond at the time, not 2 or 3 weeks later.  The mediator can help by translating and clarifying if necessary.  Then, in a constructive and problem-solving way you talk through the options and work out what is best for your separated family. Then you do it, job done!

Whatever.  The importance of ‘Whatever’ in History.  

The countless aeons of history that have gone before us are full of fighting and killing, full of domination and oppression, full of taking over and wiping out, conversion, subjection and vanquishing, the growth and decline of empires and peoples. The strong overcome; weakness is obliterated and suffers.

Does extremism make people violent or do psychologically disturbed people get attracted to the violence, power, fear and atrocities possible in the life devoted to the evangelism of the mad, bad and truly horrific Whatever? Does war and violent evangelism offer an apparently pure excuse for the anger and alienation of some young people, waiting for their lives to start? I say “Whatever” because historically the motive for aggression can be anything, that’s the point really.  Some wars are simply about land and resources – we want ‘your’ this, that or the other and we will kill as many of ‘you’ as we have to in order to get it. Oh, and the rest of ‘you’ can be our slaves.

Then there are the crusades – our religion or philosophy, culture or Whatever is right and yours is wrong, so we will kill as many of you as we have to, to convert you to our ways plus we will destroy your homes and cities and flatten your country until there is no one left to oppose us. Then we will have won and you will believe what we believe or you’ll be annihilated and that will be the victory of our Whatever.  In the Middle Ages the English kings led the crusades to the East to convert the people they broadly called the infidel to Christianity.  It seems mad today doesn’t it? Now we have the descendants of those peoples waging jihad against their peoples and neighbours to establish their caliphate, because they think if they kill and destroy enough, they will be able to take over and rule, convert and build an empire, like Hitler or Stalin or any other mad megalomaniac from the countless centuries that have gone before trying to impose their Whatever by force.


Of course, each thinks that their Whatever is different, theirs is the Real Whatever, but for everyone else coping with the consequences of the onslaught, it’s the onslaught that matters, that gets noticed, the Whatever is the price of peace. So here we are again, there always seems to be somewhere in the world where someone is trying to convert to Whatever by killing. It used be to Ireland. For hundreds of years there was fighting and killing on the face of it between two types of Christians, the Catholics and the Protestants. Any of them knew what they were doing was wholly contrary to their Christian beliefs, to the “in my Father’s house there are many mansions” of the Bible they were purporting to defend. Everyone could see it wasn’t really about religion, it was wholly anti-religious. So is the killing, maiming and destruction that occurs in the name of religion going on today, whether it is between Jews and Arabs, different types of Muslims or different types of anyone else. The text is always “We are right you are wrong, mend ‘your’ ways to our ways, or die” but the subtext is always that of fighting, killing and destruction.

The apparent motive for the aggression must be on the face of it a pure and totemic idea, that people can be blindly and suicidally committed to. However, the apparent motive can be almost anything, “Whatever.”  The main requirement is that death in its cause will create martyrs, so the young can be recruited and turned to its service and kill and die and yet live forever in heaven. Interestingly, those dying in the Christian crusades were martyrs, as are those dying today in the jihads. Everything changes, but nothing changes, the death and destruction are the same, only the names of the protagonists are different.  Whatever.

What is it about mankind that attracts large numbers of people to war, fighting and death? The defenders are fighting for their lives, for peace and survival. The attackers are usually fighting to impose their Whatever on others. Why? When will we ever learn? We were getting there. There is little appetite in the Western world for war, we have seen its terrors and want none of it. So it is all the more frightening that in some parts of the world now education is vilified and girls cannot be educated, women live like prisoners in their homes, while boys and men are indoctrinated in “Whatever” and prepared for modern crusades. Ignorance is our greatest enemy; ignorance and starvation and the desperate fight for survival that leads peoples out of their barren starved, parched lands to seek water and life. What will we do about them?

The problems we face as humans are so massive and all encompassing; we surely have to find new ways to resolve our differences and those problems. Yet how can the mediation of peaceful solutions wage war on terror, death and destruction? We have a race on our hands to answer that question, because it is an idea whose time has come and we have to make it happen fast. Mankind must stop fighting and start talking about how to solve the problems of the world together. Unless we start to prioritise the mediation of solutions and agreements that are life affirming, tolerant and create a peaceful world we are all dead. That is my Whatever.

The Unreported Flaws Behind Penelope Leach’s ‘Toxic Truth’

Parenting guru Penelope Leach’s recent claim that after parents split, no child under four can spend even one night away from their primary carer – usually their mother without the risk of lasting damage – has caused a storm of controversy in family law. Her latest book, Family Breakdown, cites “undisputed evidence” that overnight separation from mum can adversely affect a child’s brain development.

These trenchant certainties threaten to have an enormous impact on parents and judges who are often confused about what is best after couples split.

Leach’s influence is even more worrying because science shows her “undisputed evidence” may well be wrong. She relies on a study from Australia (McIntosh el al 2010) Responding to this study, the American Psychological Association (APA) has published a paper, Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report,  endorsed by 110 of the world’s leading child mental health experts from 15 countries, repudiating its conclusions. The lead author of the Australian study has subsequently dropped the conclusions that Leach relies upon, stating: “Cautions against overnight care during the first three years are not supported.” Sadly for so many children and their parents, Leach does not include this addendum in her book.


We cannot afford for such important questions about child welfare to become an ideological battleground. Parents, mediators, lawyers  – and the judiciary – need clear guidance grounded in sound evidence. That’s why the APA review is so valuable, since it provides an overview of 45 years of settled and accepted research.

“We found no support for the idea that children under four (some say under six) need to spend nearly all their time living with only one parent, when their other parent is also loving and attentive,” the lead author Professor Richard Warshak said. “Warnings against infants and toddlers spending overnight time with each parent are inconsistent with what we know about the development of strong, positive parent-child relationships. Babies and toddlers need parents who respond consistently, affectionately and sensitively to their needs. They do not need, and most do not have, one parent’s full-time, round-the-clock presence.”

At Focus we can, in many cases if you and your children want, talk to your children in confidence about their thoughts, wishes and feelings.  It won’t be easy for either of you, but at the end of it we hope that you will have reached an agreement that you both feel works for you and most importantly your children.

So much for justice, we’ve learned to live with an unfair dysfunctional system and find weird ways around the worst problems it causes. Just don’t expect it to make sense!

Many Divorces are based on lies, but you can’t defend them. 

Countless times it turns out in mediation that two people, who experienced the same event, interpreted it totally differently. Each understood what was happening in their own way, then afterwards, thought about it and overlaid it with different layers of meaning from their reflections about what happened. The most common issue in the early stages of family breakdown is whose fault it was that the marriage broke down. One may say it was the affair, but the other may say it was the constant rows, their poor relationship that pre-dated the affair. It will often feel desperately important to people to feel their conscience is clear and the break up wasn’t their fault. Many people find it impossible to believe that if it’s not your fault you don’t get a better settlement. Of course, they may think if they make the other person feel bad enough, guilt may help them to a greater share of the money. That is usually not the case.

Whilst defended divorces are rare these days they do still happen. The person who defends usually does so because they feel the divorce petition is a lie. They usually agree the marriage is over and then they usually cross petition, as they want the divorce to be granted on the basis the other person was to blame, and so their cross petition sets out all the reasons their spouse has actually caused the marriage to end.


In a divorce based on fault not separation, the petition has to be based on adultery or unreasonable behaviour and in either case it has to be the cause of the breakdown of the marriage in the sense of make that particular petitioner feel they can’t live with that respondent. So it is very personal to them and doesn’t have to reach a level of proof such that a reasonable person would find it intolerable to live with the petitioner. If the petitioner has forgiven the behaviour or adultery, then it cannot be used in the petition, so it’s no good dragging up ancient history. Forgiven has a specific meaning and if you have lived with the respondent for a period or periods together totalling six months or more since you found out about the behaviour or adultery, then you cannot rely on it in your divorce petition. This can cause a lot of injustice. So a spouse who tried hard to forgive someone for committing adultery and struggled on in the marriage but later called it a day, may not be able to rely on that adultery to divorce their spouse, unless it is continuing or continued to within six months of the petition.  It doesn’t matter that it was actually the reason for the break-down. To add insult to injury, if after separation the injured party then has an affair, most people would say that didn’t cause the marriage break-down, but it is still legally adultery and what’s more it may well be the only adultery that can be used in the petition, as it hasn’t been legally forgiven!  To make it even worse, if you are the respondent you can find yourself facing an order you pay the divorce costs! So plenty of room for unfairness and dispute.

Where petitions based on adultery are concerned, you only need a sentence saying the respondent has committed adultery with someone the respondent doesn’t name, they find it intolerable to live with the respondent and seek a divorce. You can no longer muck rake by dragging in the name of the person who you think they committed adultery with, so no more co-respondents.

The other fault-based petition is founded on unreasonable behaviour and more detail has to be given to justify the divorce. There is an old rule of thumb of half a side of A4 and a few paragraphs. So typically a few lines of general outline, followed by the first, the worst and the last, then a concluding paragraph saying the effect the unreasonable behaviour has had on the respondent, for example, made them depressed, miserable, sleepless, feel deeply unhappy and unloved – and importantly that the marriage is over and they seek to end it with a divorce.

In those rare cases when divorces are defended, the court does everything in its power to stop it. We at Focus Mediation have over our fifteen years and approaching ten thousand cases, mediated a number of defended divorces with cross petitions. They usually end in the same way. Either and usually both the petition and cross petition is amended to remove the most offensive allegations, then the divorce proceeds on the basis of both petition and cross petition, with usually no order for costs. Normally the costs by then will be £3,000 – £10,000 between the parties, money completely down the drain and each will usually pay their own costs. Many hours will be spent arguing over the detail of the reasons for the divorce, because it feels so important to that couple, but not actually because it is important in any way that matters.

Sometimes the respondent may feel that the allegations touch on and criticise their handling of the children and might cause troubles over them having the children if not challenged. There is even a way around this. You can say the divorce particulars are not agreed, but you’ll allow the divorce to proceed on the basis that the fact you have not defended it does not mean you accept the petition and the fact it wasn’t defended cannot be relied on as evidence it was true in the context of any other proceedings. Job done, you can produce that letter at court if you need to in those other proceedings if such ever occur. Then it’s likely the court would make you plead that behaviour again and prove it in those other proceedings.

Judges hate defended divorces with a passion and they do all they can to stop them. If you defend you can expect a drubbing at court, even though you may feel outraged at what is happening to you, the judge will be just as outraged you could defend a divorce in their court, so not much sympathy there.

So in conclusion, divorce petitions must follow technical rules and cannot just be about what you feel is the reason for the divorce. Often they will be about something different, but it qualifies as the legal grounds for the divorce, which may not be the real reason your marriage ended at all. This may make you mad and upset, but as we all know the Law’s an ass, so don’t expect the judge to agree with you or think you’ll get “Justice” because you won’t. Sorry, but don’t be silly! You can’t  go to court for justice on your divorce, who cares whose fault it is? Only you.  The judge will not let you have your day in court, not if they can help it.

The answer is to change the Law to stop all this, they were going to do that many moons ago, but dropped it. The tabloids were out-raged that people would just get divorced for no reason; the government had to drop the Bill. So here we are still with antiquated divorce laws that make a sad situation worse and make people wash their dirty linen in public, so to speak. Mad, bad and stupid divorce laws do nothing to ease the path of broken hearts to a civilised divorce. They encourage arguments then deny the right of reply and the use of the courts to establish truth. So many divorces are based on lies and lawyers can do nothing about it, save advise people to bite the bullet and let it go – along with the marriage.
Mediation at least helps you end it with dignity and kindness.

Important stages in family break-down

Understanding where you are on the journey makes finding your way easier

Usually, one half of the couple initiates the split. They may well have been thinking about the future of the relationship for some time, usually not saying anything to their partner, in case they were wrong and not wanting to make it worse, until they were sure.  When they break the news to their partner that the relationship is over, it means the other person has a lot of emotional catching up to do. Immediately you have the problem of two people being in completely different emotional stages on the grieving cycle. When we mediate for such couples, it is difficult to go fast enough for one or slow enough for the other. It is unhelpful to say things like ‘it’s over, get over it’. There isn’t a get over it switch! Then add to the mix other people, children, friends and family, then the cast of possible professionals who might help, and you are set for a busy time.




So here is the timetable:

    • One partner decides relationship is over, this may have taken then years to decide


    • Tells partner


    • Period of shock and recriminations – 52 card pick-up


    • Partner needs time to adjust to the idea, is often unstable and upset. They have to work through the grieving cycle, so denial, anger, blame, crying, depression, moving on eventually to recovery, acceptance, moving on


    • Telling children and extended family and friends makes it real and retraction becomes increasingly unlikely


    • Children start on their own cycle of loss and grief


    • Couple considers how to sort it out. May seek help from doctors, counsellors, solicitors, mediators.


    • Couple may be confused about resolution options, timescale and comparative costs


    • Couple may be afraid if they don’t ‘get tough’ they may lose out



    • Adjustment to separation brings calmer consideration of less nuclear options for sorting out the  future


    • Some couples can agree much themselves, some can’t agree anything



    • Couple chooses resolution option that feels best to them and starts it


    • Some change their minds, e.g. Start court proceedings then mediate or vice versa



However people sort things out, it does take some time. This is partly emotional recovery time and partly the time taken by the chosen route to resolution. The fact is that mediation is by far the fastest and most cost effective process for sorting out separation and divorce and therefore it makes sense to use it first and only choose more expensive and adversarial options if you have to.


Make it better not worse – mediate first.


Hearing about Mediation before you can apply to Court – why it’s a good idea.

The Children and Families Act came into force on 22nd of April 2014. For the first time it requires would be applicants to court to hear about mediation and how it might be able to help them, before making their court application. This simply gives them a choice of court or mediation before they embark on the court route. As such it is a useful intervention. This meeting is fast becoming known as a ‘mediation awareness meeting’? Its formal name is  the Mediation Intake Assessment Meeting or MIAM.

A qualified mediator will tell couples about mediation and the alternatives to court adjudication. This is greatly needed, as put simply, if mediators don’t tell people about how mediation may help them, mostly people do not understand it and don’t try mediation. Before the compulsory referral to hear about mediation from a mediator in 1999, there were only a few hundred mediations a year. After legal aid applicants had to hear about mediation from a mediator in 1999, this rose to about 13,500 mediations a year and it has stayed about the same every year that is until last May, when all compulsory referrals to a mediator for mediation assessment stopped, along with the abolition of legal aid for family cases. Then, couples unaware of mediation simply went straight to court and the number of court applications has increased massively everywhere, with many fewer mediations taking place. The fact is, in many cases lawyers do not sell mediation, they are more likely to sell legal services and to negotiate the case in a conventional, positional way. This increase in adversarial resolution is bad for families, turning them into opponents in what is often an expensive, long drawn out ‘ping pong’ of letters and court hearings.


Compulsory mediation awareness meetings do not mean compulsory mediation, nevertheless many people will choose to go on to mediate and save themselves and their families a great deal of time, money and avoidable stress. If some family lawyers don’t like it, and it is only some lawyers, we have to ask why are they so worried about people simply hearing what mediation has to offer? They don’t have to mediate and no one is saying people should not hear about the legal resolution methods. If people need to go to court, they can still go to court, if they want lawyers to write letters then they can pay for that, but a tiny proportion of cases do actually get decided by a judge, so deciding them even earlier in mediation seems like a good idea to most people.

The reality is that in most disputes over children, the worst thing that can happen to a family is a brutal fight over the children, replete with welfare reports, adversarial arguments and adjudication or shuttle diplomacy between lawyers at court, cobbling something together under immense pressure and making that into an order. A series of mediation sessions over a few weeks or months with changes being introduced and reviewed, improvements made and children’s views taken on board where possible, is just so much better for most families.

Where property and finance issues are concerned, mediation has a massively important role to play in resolving settlements quickly and at proportionate cost. How much do you think should be spent on legal fees  of resolving a financial settlement on divorce? Should it be 10% , 20% or some other proportion of the overall value of the family pot?  This is the thorny problem the courts are not addressing. There is a court rule that the legal costs must be proportionate to the value of a dispute. This is universally ignored, as it seems to convey no meaning to the judges or the legal representatives. It is common for the costs to be half or even more of the value of the dispute – where is the sense in that? If you bear in mind that in most family cases, unless it’s a very short marriage or there’s a pre nup, there is a starting point or yardstick of equal division of the assets, then the value of the dispute is probably no more than between 10% to 25% of the overall pot. Legal costs frequently exceed 10% to 25% of the value of the family pot. How can that to be regarded as proportionate to the value of the dispute? It isn’t proportionate at all.

So, in a nutshell, the changes with regard to compulsory mediation assessment meetings brought in by the Children and Families Act are mostly welcome and long overdue.  Compulsory mediation meetings before court applications can be made will enable a significant number of families to avoid court proceedings and expensive legal costs by choosing mediation, once they know how it can help them. Previously, they often simply issued proceedings and the legal route was the default option. Now a real choice is being offered and it is up to mediators and lawyers alike to help couples make the best choice for their family, taking into account everything relevant to the family.  It is the couple that matters most and finding the best way forward for them, not what matters to the lawyer or the mediator – selling the service they prefer to sell. The family is at the heart of separation and divorce, how they sort out their arrangements, which process they use, should be an informed decision they take and the advent of mediation assessment will help ensure public awareness of mediation when they need it most.