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Lack of awareness of legal aid for family mediation

The impact on courts and families of legal aid reforms implemented in April 2013 are already becoming evident, says umbrella body National Family Mediation (NFM), with an increased number of court applications and a drop in the number of referrals to mediation.

Since April 2013, legal aid is no longer available for divorce, separation and child contact cases unless there is evidence of severe domestic abuse.  However, NFM says that the government has failed to inform the public that legal aid for Family Mediation remains in place and is accessible through NFM and its member mediation services.

“The government had intended that greater numbers of people would try mediation before making an application to court but the failure to publicise services has had the opposite effect and people are heading straight to court because they do not know what else to do,” says Jane Robey, Chief Executive Officer of NFM.

“What the government didn’t see was that lawyers acted as gatekeepers for both mediation and the courts. Now the public is left with fewer options. Many are applying to court, and now more frequently as litigants in person”.

NFM is concerned that by next April there will no longer be a healthy network of NFM member services available to support the Children and Families Bill implementation. It is also warning that it is more likely that families will experience the postcode lottery of services with gaps and hot spots appearing across the country.

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