The Observer reported over the weekend that legal aid cuts have hit divided families as contact centres close down due to the fact that parents are simply not accessing the services they would have previously been able to access if they had been in receipt of legal aid.
Legal aid remains available for family mediation. At Consilia Mediation from 1st February 2015 we will be able to offer mediation free of charge to those who qualify under the eligbility criteria set by the Legal Aid Agency.
We thought it might be helpful to set out below what funding is available to separated parties going through the family mediation process:-
* If one party qualifies under the eligibility criteria then both parties have their assessment meeting and the cost of the first joint session met by the Legal Aid Agency
* The qualifying party is also entitled to free legal advice as they go through family mediation process (as long as they attend one joint session) from a firm of family solicitors who hold a legal aid franchise. As family mediators we can sign the necessary forms to help people access that advice.
* In financial related mediations the Help with Mediation scheme which parties can access through solicitors also covers the drawing up of the financial agreement “Consent Order” if parties are able to resolve matters within the mediation process.
Mediation services are often the first point of contact now for separated families. As mediators we can and should, where appropriate, be discussing with parties the availability of supported contact centres and in our practice we have and do help parties access such services.
The media is increasingly reporting that the number of private children law cases is reducing and highlighting that this is due to financial cuts. It will be interesting to see as more data becomes available as to whether the number of cases being dealt with in mediation is significantly increasing and further rather than it simply being the case that many thousands of parties are missing out on access to justice, parties are successfully finding alternative methods of resolving their issues outside of the arena of the Court. What is clear is that more needs to be done to promote to the public that funding is available for parties should they choose to engage within the mediation process and that alongside the process parties can also access supporting legal advice.
It remains a case of watch this space and us all doing our bit to promote how as practitioners we can assist parties accessing services.