Family law expert optimistic over early legal advice pilot plans

February 14, 2024

A Cheshire-based family law solicitor is encouraged by the government’s decision to launch a pilot of early legal advice for separating couples.

On the final day of Family Mediation Week – 26 January – plans to make mediation compulsory for parents in England and Wales were shelved.

A “lack of clear information and guidance” was cited as the reason to revisit the proposals, with “an ambitious package of reforms that will put conflict resolution, and children’s welfare, first at every stage of a separation” set to be trialled.

The government plans to launch the pilot in specific regions in England and Wales by summer 2024.

Danny Hudson, partner and a member of the family department at Watsons Solicitors, said: “Even when an agreement is reached in mediation, it will only be approved if it is deemed ‘fair and reasonable’ for financial matters or ‘in the best interest of the child’ in children’s matters, which is something expert guidance will ensure.

“The government proposals are encouraging, but there is an obvious need for a coordinated approach, which starts at the top and includes everyone involved in the family justice system.”

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said: “Our goal is to collaborate closely with stakeholders in the legal and advice sectors to design a pilot that effectively assists participating families in resolving their disputes and enables us to collect crucial evidence on the role of legal advice in dispute resolution.”

Speaking on the government website, lord chancellor and justice secretary Alex Chalk added: “Our measures will help parents to reach an agreement either by themselves, with the support of professionals, such as mediators or lawyers, or through a family court service dedicated to reducing conflict.”

One focus of the pilot will be mediation, with more than 24,000 families accessing the voucher scheme as of December 2023 to try and resolve issues without resorting to court.

The initiative, launched by the MoJ, provides a contribution of up to £500 towards the cost of arbitration for eligible cases.

Danny added: “Minimising conflict is always in the best interests of everyone, especially when children are involved, so these reforms will change the system in a positive way.

“It will help avoid unwanted heartache in the form of a drawn-out separation, whilst freeing up courts to focus on those most in need of protection.”

To speak to someone at Watsons Solicitors about all aspects of family law, please contact enquiries@watsonssolicitors.com or call 01925 571212.

Watsons Solicitors, which has been established for more than 60 years, specialises in family law, employment law, wills and probate, and conveyancing.

The team of experienced solicitors holds various accreditations and memberships of professional bodies relevant to their expertise, while the firm’s partners oversee all areas of work.

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