A group of eight leading divorce and family law specialists in Leeds has launched an innovative new service for separating couples who may otherwise struggle to pay for legal assistance.
Lawyer-Supported Mediation is a national initiative and comes at a time when more and more people are representing themselves at court following the withdrawal last year of Legal Aid for most family law cases.
The service makes available divorce lawyers on fixed fee terms when the separating couple are willing to explore reaching agreement at family mediation.
The Leeds hub is being led by specialist family law firm Jones Myers who will act as part of a carefully selected panel of family law experts from across the region to provide couples with a new method of resolving their differences in a cost effective manner.
Other firms involved are Chadwick Lawrence, Simpson Millar, Clarion, Lake Legal, Blacks Solicitors, Ison Harrison and Winston Solicitors.
A recent report by Napo, the union representing family court staff, claimed that the family courts were now ten times more likely to see both parents in a custody dispute without legal representation as opposed to them being represented by a solicitor.
Publicly funded family mediation in the Leeds area has likewise struggled to divert separating couples from the courts.
Data from the Ministry of Justice shows that between May and November 2013, the total number of mediations getting underway fell by just over 40 per cent (41 per cent), compared to the same period in 2012.
Trained mediator and founder of LawyerSupportedMediation.com, Marc Lopatin said:
“We dramatically reduce the cost of accessing legal experts by fusing their advice with family mediation, where separating couples can resolve their differences.
“We know from government data that two-thirds of people who begin mediation go on to reach agreement, so we need to find new ways of encouraging more people to try.
Beyond Leeds, the service will be piloted in Newcastle, Manchester and London.
Fiona Kendall, partner and family lawyer at central Leeds law firm Jones Myers, said:
“This is a real chance to lead the way in bringing down the cost of family law services.
“Working as a likeminded group of lawyers and mediators, we can put an end to the widely-held view that lawyers are beyond the means of average income separating couples.”