More talk time is priority for splitting couples

Hard on the heels of Britain’s longest-running and most bitter divorce, the Government has said it will be pushing more couples towards mediation, whilst the price of applying for a divorce could rise to £750, as part of an overhaul of court fees by the Ministry of Justice.

The multi-million pound divorce case of Young v Young was, according to the judge, “extraordinary even by the standards of the most bitter of matrimonial breakdowns”.  The seven-year court battle between the couple has cost millions and notched up 65 hearings in court before the wife finally secured a £20m financial award last month.  And the case may yet return to court to deal with costs and enforcing the award.

The millions spent in the financial battle fought by the Youngs may come from another world, but the cost of divorce could rise for everyone under plans being considered by the Ministry of Justice.  As part of an overhaul of court funding, they are considering raising the court fee for a divorce petition to £750 for an uncontested divorce.  Currently the fee is £410 and the findings of the consultation will be announced later this year.

But alongside, the Government is pushing ahead with plans intended to reduce the emotional and financial burden of the whole process, with the announcement of more mediation for couples who are splitting up.

Under proposed measures in the Children and Families Bill, which is in its final stages of going through Parliament, couples who are separating and want to apply for a court order about children or financial matters must first attend what is being called a “mediation information and assessment meeting”.  Some exemptions will apply, such as evidence of domestic violence.

Although some 120,000 couples in England and Wales separate every year, previous efforts by the Government to encourage couples into mediation have not seen good take-up, even though the results of mediation show that it is faster and cheaper than going to court – the average time for a mediated case is 110 days compared to 435 days for non-mediated cases.

Family law expert Sally-Ann Kodurand of Sherborne based solicitors Dyne Drewett explained:  “In a court case, the judge will have much wider discretion, but it’s not the job of the judge to arrange a compromise that both sides can live with.  That’s where mediation comes in, as it gives both sides much more control over the outcome as they can refuse to accept the mediator’s proposals at any stage and keep on parleying, and there’s more room for compromise.

“People often reject the idea of mediation because they’re worried about being bullied or can’t face seeing their ex, but you don’t have to sit in the same room and it doesn’t stop you having a legal adviser at your side to help put your case.”

The remaining stages of the Children and Families Bill are expected to be completed in the next few months, but in the meantime January continues to be the peak period for couples deciding to separate, with official figures showing that internet searches for ‘divorce’ on Government sites such as www.justice.gov.uk  peak in January.

And there are increasing numbers of older couples splitting up – statistics show a 73% increase between 1991 to 2011 in the number of men aged 60+ who are divorcing.

She added: “If a couple make that tough decision and call time on their marriage, it’s important they don’t overlook updating their wills.  If you have an existing will leaving everything to your spouse, that will become invalid once the decree absolute is confirmed, but until that time it is still valid even if you have separated or received your decree nisi.”

Mogers Drewett

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