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There can be little doubt that, not least in the United Kingdom, family mediation is a very effective medium for resolving disputes that arise as a result of marriage and relationship break and family disputes.  There are people who when finding themselves caught up in the middle of such a crisis, shun the option of mediation and choose to “go down the court route”.  However, for many people family mediation is not only viable, timely and cost effective but is the difference between resolving sometimes very entrenched, long-term disputes effectively and otherwise existing in some sort of conflict-ridden stalemate.

At the very least the accolades included in the ASM Plus website confirm this and working both with my colleague Austin Chessell and alone, I can attest to numerous examples of seemingly intractable family disputes being resolved. Many thousands of pounds have saved in the process, much of it, public money and that is just the cases where I have mediated. Austin, in particular mediates on a regular basis so it reasonable to assume that the cost benefits that he has brought can be calculated in the hundreds of thousands.

With these considerations in mind, I read with interest the transcript of the address referred to above.  This address, which was delivered before the onset of the current health emergency, will doubtless be of interest to those undertaking family law related work, be they mediators, lawyers, accountants, financial advisers, police officers, counsellors or psychologists.

His Lordship’s speech largely focused on child related matters and quite rightly highlighted the importance that the UK and Irish family law systems attach to them.  Additionally, he not only makes the valid point that the principles embodied in the relevant underlying UK statutory legislation have stood the test of time but highlights changes of emphasis in the manner in which individual cases are addressed by the courts. There can be no doubt that the speech was delivered by a senior judge in the UK family court system who is not only highly focused but is taking a very important lead in ensuring that the highest possible legal and judicial standards are applied.

Accordingly, in reading this transcript I was both surprised and disappointed to note that an address delivered by a senior member of the judiciary makes little or no reference to the principles of alternative dispute resolution in general and to family mediation in particular.  In an age in when divorcing or separating couples are often strongly encouraged by members of the judiciary to mediate and at the very least are required to consider this option as an alternative to going to court, the lack of reference to family mediation is I suggest a very notable omission.

It would be wrong to suggest that the UK family court does not recognise the significance of mediation and alternative dispute resolution. However, I suggest that in addressing an influential organisation that undoubtedly has not only a UK wide but also an international focus, that an opportunity to emphasise that importance was missed. At the very least, his lordship might have acknowledged that family mediation is a timely, cost effective process that makes a very significant contribution in the context of divorce and family breakdown.

At a time when, as a result of the global pandemic, many millions of people in the UK and abroad find themselves more or less confined to their homes and court disputes are taking even longer to conclude than ever, family mediation is all the more important.  Family mediation practitioners very quickly realised that online facilitation works. At a time when the entire UK Court system is floundering it is quite apparent that as a professional entity, family mediators such as Austin Chessell ASM Plus are making a very valuable contribution so as to ensure that justice is delivered promptly, efficiently and at reasonable cost.

[1] https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Four-Jurisdictions-2020-Family-Law-Past-and-Future-PDF.pdf

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