The number of divorces in England and Wales have slightly increased by 0.5% since 2011 – as shown by the latest figures out today from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Jane Robey, Chief Executive Officer of National Family Mediation, the largest provider of family mediation in the U.K. responded by stating:
“In 2011 we saw the divorce rates hit an all-time low. The theory was that couples couldn’t afford to split as a result of the recession. Now we see divorce rates are rising. Is this as a result of the anecdotal green shoots of economic recovery or because breaking point has been reached?”
“Nobody plans for a divorce and it can be emotionally, financially and practically challenging but the sustained pressure of the economic recession with job losses redundancy, financial insecurity and huge hike in cost of living will have tested many families resolve to the limits. Sadly the ONS figures indicate that many families have reached tipping point and cannot withstand anymore”.
Families past the talking point need affordable expert advice and information to be able to move forward. National Family Mediation understands all too well the impact and expense of divorce and the effect conflict created by relationship breakdown can have on families.
Going through the process of divorce can cause great uncertainty to all members of the family, and at such a stressful time, many couples find it difficult to talk to each other about their concerns and the plans they need to make.
Family Mediation can help because it gives you a private and supportive setting to talk through all the issues surrounding your divorce or separation. Simon Hughes, Justice Minister, supports this view:
“”[The government is] committed to making sure that more people make use of it rather than go through the confrontational and stressful experience of going to court.”
“That is why we want them to use the excellent mediation services available to agree a way forward, rather than have one forced upon them.”
Professionally, trained mediators provide you with the tools to untangle all the strands around family breakdown, whether it is before, during or after the event, and offer you a structured process that enables you to focus on your practical plans for the future.
Robey adds: “National Family Mediation aims to help families adjust to the change that relationship breakdown brings with minimum distress and conflict, with the welfare of children in these families being paramount”.
- According to the ONS release in 2012 – the latest year published – there were a total of 118,140 divorces, a slight increase on 2011, when there were 117,558 (ONS).
- Of the 2012 total, almost half of these divorces occurred in the first 10 years of marriage, with divorces most likely to occur between the fourth and eighth wedding anniversary. 71% of divorces were for first marriages (ONS).
- National Family Mediation has a network of accredited family mediation services delivering in over 500 locations across England, Wales and the Channel Islands. Our services are proven to reduce the conflict in separation, help families avoid lengthy and costly court battles and provide a more affordable and quicker route than traditional legal remedies.
- Couples that use National Family Mediation typically take just over three months to finalise their divorce or separation while cases that go to court take four times longer.
- National Family Mediation is also considerably more affordable, especially as we are able to offer legal aid to eligible clients in mediation.
- National Family Mediation’s professionally accredited family mediators can help families resolve all the practical, legal, emotional and financial issues that arise from separation. Most importantly, NFM can help families make long lasting arrangements that benefit their children.
National Family Mediation is a proud supporter of National Family Dispute Resolution Week. The initiative, launched today, aims to raise awareness of non-confrontational methods of resolving family breakdown, such as mediation, collaborative law and arbitration.
According to a polling carried out by ComRes in 2012, shows that the majority of Britons believe that putting the child’s interests first and avoiding conflict are the top factors to consider when going through a divorce.
Four out of five (78%) say that putting children’s interests first would be their first or second most important consideration in a divorce, and 53% would prioritise making the divorce as conflict-free as possible.
Despite this, over four-fifths of people (81%) believe that children end up being the main casualties of divorce, and 40% believe that divorces can never be without conflict – a figure that rises to nearly half (47%) of those who are currently divorced themselves. In addition, 45% of those surveyed think that most divorces involve a visit to court, despite the increasing availability of non-court alternatives.
Surprisingly, financial factors are not seen as particularly important. Only 1% said that being financially better off than their partner would be the most important consideration should they separate.
As part of Family Dispute Resolution Week, National Family Mediation is promoting a full range of solutions for separating families. This includes promotional activities across England, Wales and the Channe Islands which are designed to help separating couples understand and explore non-court based methods of resolving issues arising on the breakdown of a relationship. This includes free mediation information surgeries at local Citizen’s Advice Bureaux, delivery of information sessions to couples in court and launching new office premises.
Chief Executive Officer of National Family Mediation, Jane Robey states: “Divorce or separation is never easy and families struggle to find the services they need. We help families to identify organisations that can provide the right services in their time of need”
All too often we see families who have struggled to find a solution to their problem and this has often cost them dear, both financially and emotionally. We aim to help parents find services that can help them more quickly so we can save them both time and money – but more importantly – they will be able to move forward with their lives and their children will be secure in the knowledge that both of their parents are working together despite the separation”.
National Family Mediation also has a range of videos which aim to show how family mediation can be beneficial:
- Regular, positive contact with both parents is the best way to bring up children when parents separate. Tanya Victor who went to mediation with the father of her daughter, Georgia, talks about how it has improved life for all of them. John Hickman talks to his children everyday using FaceTime.
- Family mediation helped Martin and Steven come to an amicable arrangement over property and pensions when their civil partnership broke down.
- Brenda and her husband divorced using mediation, and they still live in the same house.
- Terry and Susan Selby are divorcing after 30 years of marriage. Mediation has saved them thousands of pounds by sorting out a problem with their pension that neither of their solicitors had spotted.
- Tricia Mason went to family mediation 15 years ago. She talks about how her two children have regular contact with their father. Her daughter Kate grew up with her parents living apart, and she talks about how important it has been for her to have contact with both parents over the years.
Please remember that legal aid is still available for family mediation.
All NFM Mediators are professionals with a wealth of skills and experience in family mediation and conflict resolution. They deliver family mediation at the highest accredited standard. All are qualified to provide legally aided family mediation on behalf of the Legal Aid Agency.
I am often asked how Family Mediation fits in with other forms of Mediation and I always give the same answer. Mediation is about communication, communication and communication. And in the end it’s about people coming to an agreement. If people could communicate with each other and find agreements for themselves, they wouldn’t need us. So we must be one of the few professions where the aim is to work ourselves out of a job. The better we are, the less we are needed. Now, there’s a thought.
The fact is, of course, that in all areas of life, communication between people does sometimes break down and I think we would agree that mediation is better than conflict. All of us in this room would also agree, I think, that mediation is better than litigation as a way of reducing conflict – at least as a first port of call. So, identifying common ground, communicating and working to find agreements, that’s what we strive for.
I will cover two topics in this article:
1) whether mediation in general is becoming more important in national life;
2) the development of Family Mediation and where I see that going;
To answer the first question I think it may be helpful to look back at the origins of mediation which can be traced back to ancient Greece. It was then a philosophical movement aimed at making people think about their relationships with others and consequently about themselves. Plato signed up to the belief that an individual has knowledge which is stored in his or her subconscious, accumulated from previous generations. Mediation is a way of enabling people to express or find this knowledge and develop individual responsibility.
The Greek translation of the word means “midwife”. Mediators help people “give birth” to their own ideas and become responsible for them. I quite like that idea and I think it’s more accurate than some of the definitions we hear today which suggest we are “neutral” or that we “just listen”. We are impartial, and we do listen of course, but I think mediation is more than that. We direct conversations between people and we are active in helping them find agreement. In that way it is helpful to see us as “midwives” in the process of creating agreements.
I do think mediation is becoming more important in national life today, yes. But I also think we have a long way to go. We have family mediation, workplace mediation, mediation to resolve disputes in schools but sometimes it is “keep it out of court” mediation rather than a genuine development of communication. No matter, you may say, at least it is resolving conflict through mediation, and I would agree. First steps first. And mediation today IS beginning to divert conflict resolution away from the adversarial court system. But if we are about nurturing and encouraging communication between parties we have to be ambitious. We have to let people know that mediation is the best way to resolve all conflict. We are getting there and in some areas of life the law and government is supporting us.
Which brings me to my specialist subject, Family Mediation. National Family Mediation is the largest provider of Family Mediation in the country. We have a national network of 47 services and provide around 16,000 mediations a year. We only deal with people who are separating or divorcing and we always offer child inclusive mediation where a child counsellor or separate mediator will talk to the child whose parents are divorcing, and on occasion, will feed the views of the child back into the mediation. National Family Mediation is the only not for profit mediation service and all our services have a mix of legally aided and private clients.
Just over a year ago the government decided that all people applying to the court for a divorce MUST try mediation first, before they take their dispute in front of a judge. You’d have thought we’d be run off our feet with thousands of people banging on our doors demanding our excellent services. Well, as you know, it doesn’t quite work like that but I would say that in line with mediation in general, family mediation is becoming a better recognised way of sorting out divorce and we are seeing more people choosing to mediate rather than fight it out in court.
But as we all know, for mediation to work, both parties in the dispute have to want to make it work. It has to be voluntary and where divorce is concerned, as you can imagine, there is often some reluctance for people to sit in a room and talk. But we are making progress. Not only is mediation four times quicker than going to court, it’s also four times cheaper and that is important in this day and age. Next year when legal aid for family solicitors is cut, there will still be legal aid for mediation. We just have to make sure people know about it.
Reducing conflict in families and helping people work together as separated parents is our bread and butter business but we have not yet seen the culture shift we need to make people go to a mediator rather than a lawyer when they first think about getting a divorce. Our experience is that mediation is far more likely to work well if people do come to us first before they have entered the adversarial court system. With that in mind, and taking into account the cuts in legal aid, we are developing fixed fee packages with solicitors for couples getting divorced. The solicitors have cut their fees to be part of a package, where couples in mediation will see a solicitor once, twice or as many times as they need, alongside the mediation process. The advantage for couples is that they can see how much their divorce is going to cost before they set out, rather than paying a ridiculous legal bill after a court battle.
We are also getting as much information out to people as we can using the internet, the media and events like these where we are talking about the benefits of mediation as a way of resolving disputes.
So where do I see Family Mediation going? Well, I am cautiously optimistic. The change in government policy in the Family Justice Review, and a greater awareness of mediation generally, is leading to the beginning of a culture shift towards mediation rather than litigation amongst the general public.
Where I’m slightly less optimistic is in the reaction of the courts to the move towards mediation. In short, they seem to be ignoring it. I suppose it is to be expected, that most people aren’t quite as keen to work themselves out of job as we are, but it is disappointing that in a recent survey 80% of people going to court had NOT tried mediation first. And the judges had done nothing about it. That does mean that we are seeing too many people AFTER they have begun the court process, if at all, and we are lobbying the government to tighten up the protocol and put pressure on judges to do more to keep people out of court. I do recognise that’s a bit like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas but we have got to the stage where the evidence that mediation is a better way of resolving disputes in divorce, so very much better or children, that we can no longer wait for some of the more pompous members of the judiciary to catch up. Some judges, of course, are great. I should just say that in case you thought I had it in for the entire legal profession!
We need to look at changing the culture in our society so that private disputes between families or neighbours or even work colleagues are ones that should be sorted out through mediation. People should not be running to the courts as they do in other countries, like the United States, where the culture of litigation has had a disastrous effect on many areas of life. You cannot cross the road without someone threatening to take legal action against you, it seems to me. And some of that “I’ll see you in court” mentality has found its way into our culture too. That’s what I want to change. I agree that “I’ll see you in mediation” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but we do need to make mediation the place people will go to if they are in dispute. It is a tall order but I’ll leave you with this thought.
20 years ago it was acceptable to drink and drive. Remember the old saying “have another one for the road”? 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, it was OK to smoke in public. 20 years ago it was quite common for fathers to stop seeing their children after their marriages broke down. All these things have changed. There’s no reason, if we all work together, we can’t change things so that people do see mediation as the way to solve their disputes rather than litigation or an escalating conflict. To quote from one of the greatest ever mediators…”I have a dream”….
Jane Robey – Chief Exective Officer (National Family Mediation)