By Richard Birke
Despite the efforts of a group of 6,500 mediators and millions of pounds spent by the government on advertising and diversion efforts, divorce mediation languished in Great Britain. The London Times reported that “only half of 4,000 adults surveyed would even consider an out-of-court solution to resolving their disputes.” [emphasis added]
A new law will require that divorcing couples with disputes about children or property will be required to attend a “mediation information and assessment meeting.” The couples aren’t required to mediate, but merely to consider mediation. There, they will be informed that the average mediated case in England costs 500 pounds and takes 110 days to resolve and that the averaged litigated case costs 4000 pounds and takes 435 days. Presumably, they’ll also learn about how mediation works. Surely, some couples will mediate who would not have without this nudge.
These small changes to the court’s approach to family law may be a harbinger of things to come. It was certainly the case in the U.S. that the earliest and most enthusiastic adopters of mediation in the U.S. were the lawyers and judges who worked in family law courts. They successfully lobbied to have mandatory mediation programs in most all counties in the U.S. It wasn’t long after their success that the idea that mediation was a superior way to resolve many disputes penetrated deeply into the legal culture – into courts rules, laws, and the minds of lawyers and clients.
Lest this seem like news that the Brits don’t mediate, there’s evidence to the contrary. Mediator friends in the U.K. report that business is brisk and that practicing lawyers understand the value of self-determination over the outcome of a dispute and a dedicated and skilled neutral. I am always pleased to hear about mediation working well and I hope their practices continue to thrive.
But it seems that there’s still massive growth potential and it may be on the horizon. Where the family courts go, so goes the dispute resolution culture. After the divorcing couples have good experiences in a mediation they would not otherwise have considered (and a great many will have good experiences – that’s part of the magic of mediation), these same divorcees will go back to work running and working in companies that may have disputes – disputes that they would not have previously considered appropriate for mediation.
Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes summed it up perfectly when he said “Mediation works and we are committed to making sure that more people make use of it, rather than go through the confrontational and stressful experience of going to court.” Let’s hope that divorcing couples have a superior experience than court and that Minister Hughes’ commitment translates into a cultural cascade in favor of increased employment of mediation.