UK: Separating couples must try talks before court

AP News
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Posted: Feb 23, 2011 10:28 AM
UK: Separating couples must try talks before court

Separating couples will be ordered to try mediation to resolve disputes over their break up before heading to court, Britain said Wednesday in a move aimed at reducing the number of people who end up embroiled in costly divorce battles.

Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said too many divorce cases are coming before judges, straining Britain's legal system and costing individuals _ and in some cases the government _ hefty fees.

Figures for 2009 show there were 114,000 divorces in England and Wales, but around 137,000 British court cases dealing with the fallout from separations _ including hearings on access to children and financial settlements.

Djanogly said that beginning in April every couple seeking to use the court system to resolve their disputes must first take part in a session with mediators. The change follows an agreement between judges and the Ministry of Justice and does not require new legislation. The process _ known in the U.S. as mediated divorce _ sees experts try to help couples settle conflicts over issues arising from their separation without the need for lawyers.

"Nearly every time I ask someone if their stressful divorce battle through the courts was worth it, their answer is no," Djanogly said.

Last year, German heiress Katrin Radmacher took her divorce battle all the way to Britain's Supreme Court, winning a ruling which threw out her ex-husband's demand for a larger share of her 55 million pounds (US$90 million) fortune.

Radmacher is German, her ex-husband is French, but the couple married, lived and divorced in England.

Already anyone who applies for government help to pay for legal costs must take part in one of the mediation sessions in order to qualify for financial support.

Djanogly said the idea would now to be extended to everyone. "I am concerned those funding their own court actions are missing out on the benefits it can bring," he said.

In some areas the sessions are free, but they cost up to 140 pounds (US$230) in other parts of Britain.

Only cases involving domestic violence or child protection issues will be exempt and go straight to court, Djanogly said.

Britain's justice ministry said the average cost of a mediated divorce was 535 pounds ($870), compared to about 2,820 (US$4,575) for divorces which end up in court.