Restrictions for victims of domestic violence to get legal help are scrapped.

Victims of Domestic Violence will be able get legal help when they go to court in family law proceedings and not have to represent themselves and face violent and abusive partners in the court room.

Time limits preventing victims of domestic violence from obtaining legal aid for court hearings will be scrapped from January, the Ministry of Justice has announced.

The courts will also be able to accept evidence from victim support organisations like women’s aid and housing workers. Since the LASPO Act were introduced in 2003 which made applications for legal aid much more difficult,  women have been required to produce evidence from GPs and social workers which they often do not have.

Confirming the new guidelines for the Legal Aid Agency, the justice minister, Dominic Raab, said: “We have listened to victims’ groups and carefully reviewed the criteria for legal aid for victims of domestic abuse in family cases

“These changes make sure that vulnerable women and children get legal support so their voice is properly heard in court.”

The new regulations will be set out in as statutory instrument which will be put before parliament this week.

Family breakdown costs of £48 million must be tackled

With Brexit dominating the general election campaign, politicians of all colours are being urged by a leading charity to explain how they will tackle a divorce bill that’s much closer to home: the £48 billion annual cost to the UK economy of family breakdown.
Jane Robey, CEO of National Family Mediation, has written to the leaders of the main political parties asking them to set out their plans to address the nation’s family breakdown bill, which has gone up by nearly a third in the last eight years.
“Family breakdown costs the UK economy £48 billion per year,” she says. “That’s a cost to each and every taxpayer up and down the land of £1,820 a year.
“Attention during this general election campaign is understandably targeted on the negotiations and the cost of the UK’s departure from the European Union.
“But whilst estimates about the costs of Brexit range from £15 billion to £50 billion, politicians would be plain daft to overlook the escalating £48 billion annual family breakdown bill. They need to set out what plans they have to reduce it.
“Family mediators understand better than most people that the primary impact of divorce and separation is the stress and pain felt by those whose families are undergoing break-up – especially the children. But simply ignoring the bill the taxpayer is expected to foot cannot be an option.
When The Relationships Foundation first researched the cost to the economy of family breakdown in 2009, it stood at £37 billion per year. The Foundation’s latest update in 2016 shows it has rocketed to £48 billion.
“Unless the government – whatever its political colour – takes control the bill will just rise and rise,” Jane Robey added. “And there will be still less in the public purse for the things we expect our tax to pay for, like health, education, defence and tackling crime.
 She outlined the huge potential of alternative means of resolving family disputes.
“When a couple separates, there are huge issues to address surrounding things like parenting, property and money. It’s sadly become the norm for couples to go to a lawyer, and spend huge sums of a court battle that sees them and their children end up much poorer.
“Family mediation is a short, time-limited intervention that helps people resolve all the legal and emotional aspects of a divorce or separation. It helps couples sort their differences much more quickly, much more cheaply and much less stressfully. Effective government backing for the process is long overdue.
 The hidden costs to the taxpayer of family breakdown include the bill to pay for things that can result from divorce and separation, including:
• Tax credits
• Lone parent benefits
• Housing benefit and council tax benefit
• Emergency housing following domestic violence
• Physical and mental health
• Social services and care
• Children in care
• Police and prisons
• Courts, legal services and legal aid
• Child maintenance
• Educational provision following disciplinary and behavioural issues
• Free school meals
• Educational maintenance allowance
• Tertiary education drop out
• Young people not in education, employment or training

New Year alert for family dispute specialists

January sees a traditional rise in divorce and separation, and many London families have emerged from the festive season having been battered by pressures on finances and relationships that were highlighted during the holiday.

Staff at Central Family Mediation, are on new year alert, gearing up for a big increase in calls, emails and website visits. They are able to provide information about the options available to couples who are in the process of separating. At a time of crisis, you need to know where you can turn for help. Continue reading

Child Contact Centres hit by cuts to legal aid

Some Child Contact Centres which provide neutral spaces for separated parents to see their children are closing down as a result of cuts in legal aid – see Guardian article.

Central Family Mediation will be working in partnership with NACC Child Contact Centres, in particular  Muswell Hill Family Contact Centre to improve access to mediation  for separated families who no longer receive legal aid to cover the costs of  a solicitor.

More legal aid funding for family mediation from 3 November 2014

Changes are being made to family mediation funding, which will mean that someone who is not financially eligible for Legal Aid will in future be able to get funding for a Mediation Session as well as the Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM), if the other party is eligible for Legal Aid.

It is expected that these changes will take effect from 3 November 2014 as a result of planned amendments to the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 2013. They are expected to apply to all cases where the first mediation session after the Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) takes place on or after 3 November 2014.

Financially ineligible parties will be exempt from the financial means test in respect of the MIAM and  first mediation session where the other party is eligible for legal aid. However, for all subsequent mediation sessions, legal aid funding will only be available for the party eligible for legal aid,.


Summer holidays can be the final straw for strained relationships

As children look forward to the long school summer holiday, a leading family charity is gearing up for an increase in the numbers of divorcing and separating couples seeking its services. National Family Mediation says the summer holiday often proves the ‘final straw for strained relationships’.

“The next six weeks will be a breaking point for many couples,” says the charity’s Chief Executive, Jane Robey. “The summer holiday can be really tough for couples on the edge. Many of them work through the tensions for the sake of their children. They take a day at a time, but then find themselves taking a deep breath and deciding it’s time for a new start.”

She said three major factors shift couples from an uneasy relationship to an unworkable one during the summer:

  • more family time together in close proximity
  • changes in established daily routines, and
  • the expense of going away, and keeping family members entertained

“The long school summer holiday will be the final straw for many couples whose relationships have been strained for some time. It’s not just the week away somewhere warm, but the time at home when stressed-out families are spending more time together,” Jane Robey added.

“More and more people now understand that when a relationship breaks down, family mediation is four times quicker and more cost effective than going to court to settle a divorce. Professional mediators believe those affected are the experts in their own lives, and are therefore best placed to explore and agree the key details of their separation, rather than handing these judgements to a court.”

As the summer holiday goes on, mediators will expect to see more and more couples who have already separated or divorced seeking to change the arrangements imposed on them by a family court.

“Separated families often find the summer holiday is when they discover agreements that were imposed on them by courts are simply not workable. Arrangements for picking up and dropping off the children that might work in term-time are exposed as impractical by changes in established routines. Resentments resurface, hostilities accelerate, and the child can be caught helplessly in the middle,” she said.

Legal Aid for a mediated separation is still available.

Couples in the London who have decided to divorce or separate are being urged to approach mediation with ‘open eyes and an open mind’, as a key law change came into effect on 22 April 2014.

Staff at Central Family Mediation based in Central London near Kings Cross welcome the change, that divorcing or separating couples should properly explore mediation before heading to court.

The legal change, part of the Children and Families Act, is one of the most significant changes in the law affecting divorcing and separating couples for many years.

Central Family Mediation is part of the National Family Mediation (NFM) network, the largest provider of mediation in the country. NFM Chief Executive Jane Robey says: “When a couple decides it’s all over, there are issues surrounding property, finance and children to sort out.  Most head off to a solicitor without a second thought. Mediation has always been a quicker, easier and less confrontational way to resolve things. Now all couples will have to explore it properly. But this shouldn’t be seen as an unwelcome imposition. Approaching mediation with open eyes and an open mind really can make a positive difference to the quality of life of everyone involved, especially children.”

Courts will be required to know that mediation has been considered before they are able to proceed with an application. So an initial Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) will become a ‘must’ for separating or divorcing couples in communities up and down the land.

“Couples who take the traditional route to a courtroom drama often leave feeling they’ve been caught in a whirlwind. They often emerge with outcomes that were beyond their control and ultimately in nobody’s interests,” adds Jane Robey.

Family mediation does not try to keep couples together, but instead helps them find long-term solutions for the future that are in their own interests, rather than those of solicitors. Amongst its benefits are:

  • it is significantly quicker than court
  • it allows families to remain in control of their destiny, their finances and their new family relationships
  • it is less confrontational than a court battle
  • decisions are shaped by parents around the needs of their children
  • it has fixed cost and is free if you are eligible for Legal Aid.