The government has admitted that cuts to legal aid may have influenced a drop in the number of couples using family mediation to work through the separation process. Following the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) of 2012, the amount of mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs) declined sharply, and numbers currently stand at approximately half previous levels.
Before the LASPO act, legal aid helped to fund MIAMs and facilitate contact between individuals and law firms, and couples were previously required to consider mediation via an assessment before they could receive legal aid to cover the costs of going to court. The cuts to legal aid appear to have had a direct knock-on effect on this process. More than 80% of funded MIAMs came through legal aid before April 2013, but following LASPO this fell to just 10%. Alternative referral sources have also increased in that time, but not significantly enough to compensate for the lack of publically-funded applications.
The latest report on the subject explains: ‘The scope changes reduced the opportunities for contact between clients and law firms. This therefore reduced the potential for clients to be told about mediation and to be referred to it and is likely to have contributed to the decline in mediation take-up following the scope changes.
‘One of the key issues affecting this decision is the way in which we monitor those applications that are put on hold while further information is requested, in particular in those cases where the application is put on hold more than once.’
The intent behind the cuts to legal aid was to reduce court delays and increase the numbers of couples using mediation, but the reverse appears to have occurred since the LASPO act in 2012. A lack of legal support has meant rising numbers of individuals are resorting to representing themselves in court, unable to afford the legal costs of professional guidance, and the family law system has been declared ‘in crisis’ by family law solicitors and organisations like Resolution.
Despite declining numbers, however, mediation can be a valuable and effective method of separation for couples looking for an out-of-court, cooperative alternative, while fixed-fee legal services may offer a lifeline to those who are anxious about the financial side of divorce. To speak with a friendly family lawyer about your options for mediation, separation, and legal aid, get in touch with us at Frances Lindsay & Co.Tags: divorce, legal aid, mediation