Mediators ‘vital’ as Legal Aid is slashed
FAMILY mediation could be the way forward after Legal Aid to thousands of separating or divorcing couples was cut earlier this year.
The volunteer team at mediationplus, a not-for-profit group serving Swindon and north Wiltshire, has seen its workload rise steadily as more couples fail to resolve painful relationship disputes.
They take on referrals but they point out that some Legal Aid is still available to people who need mediation.
Wendy Law, client manager at mediationplus, has seen benefits from a new lottery funded service, Co-ordinating Local Agencies for Separating and Separated Parents (CLASSP).
She said: “There are a whole range of services for parents and their children, and we can fast track people to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
“We got three-year lottery funding as one of 10 funded pilot schemes by the Department for Education, and in the 18 months we have been running we have helped 750 families. Parents will be referred to whatever service will benefit them and we have a local counsellor for children aged five to 18.
“It is all confidential, and it does not hurt to ask. If we can’t help them we try to find someone who can.”
Miranda Marsh, children’s services manager, helps children caught up in parental disputes.
“Sometimes the children get lost,” she said. “They can get so caught up with the parents that they feel they cannot talk about how they feel because they do not want to upset anyone.
“Children rarely have their say in court, so they can have their say here although all sessions are confidential.”
Jeni Burchell, chief executive of mediationplus, said the law has changed for people going through a divorce.
She said: “Many people are not aware that since April Legal Aid is no longer available for most people going through separation or divorce who wish to use a solicitor.
“However, those choosing mediation will still be entitled to Legal Aid as long as they meet the criteria, which means that for them mediation will effectively be free.”
Trevor Morkham, mediation manager, said: “Family breakdown is stressful for everyone.
“Separating can have wide ranging effects on the family including emotional distress.
“The truth is there is still some Legal Aid available, if the parents are under 18 or if there is a history of domestic abuse.
“At mediationplus we are concerned to ensure that separating couples have access to Legal Aid if they meet the criteria.
“Being able to talk to somebody can help.”
Call mediationplus on 01793 527285 or online at www.