The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has recently released a list of divorce hotspots in England and Wales.
Top of the list, excluding Greater London, is Birmingham Civil Justice Centre and Family Courts, where 2,799 couples filed for divorce between October 2011 and September 2012.
In second place is Weston-super-Mare, which saw 2,437 divorcing couples. Leicester County Court falls into third place, with 1,831 couples filing for divorce.
Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of divorces in England and Wales actually decreased by 1.7% in 2011 compared to 2010. This continues the general decline in divorces that has taken place since 2003.
However, these figures don’t necessarily mean that fewer relationships are breaking down. The ONS points out that the fall in divorces is consistent with a decline in the number of marriages that have taken place to 2009. According to the ONS, this marriage decline may be due to an increasing number of couples choosing to cohabit rather than get married.
Benefits of mediation
The Government has released the divorce hotspot list as part of measures to encourage more divorcing or separating couples to use mediation.
It reckons that when couples make the sad decision to separate, mediation offers them an alternative way of agreeing how to divide their assets or make arrangements for their children. Mediation is quicker, simpler and more effective than going to court, claims the Government, and is also much less divisive.
Government figures show that using mediation to resolve property and financial disputes caused by separation costs around £500 on average for a publicly funded client. The comparable figure for couples that go to court to resolve disputes is around £4,000.
Mediation is also significantly faster, taking an average of 110 days per case compared to 435 days for non-mediated cases.
The number of couples successfully using mediation has risen in recent years, and the MoJ has already announced a number of steps to encourage even an even greater take up rate.
It plans to invest an additional £10 million on top of the £15 million currently spent each year on mediation, to help fund the increased use of mediation that is expected to take place from April 2013.
In addition, the MoJ is introducing new laws that will require separating couples to consider mediation to settle the terms of their divorce before going to court.
“Mediation is a far simpler and cheaper approach for everyone and leads to better outcomes,” explained Family Justice Minister Lord McNally.
“That is why we are changing the law so that all couples seeking a court order about child contact or a financial matter must attend a mediation information assessment meeting first, to find out about mediation and consider whether it is suitable for them,” he added.
Mediation isn’t always the answer
Although the Government wishes to encourage as many couples as possible to try mediation as an alternative to going to court, it acknowledges that mediation won’t be the answer for everyone.
Some separating couples will be able to sort out their own affairs without the need for external help. Other couples may find themselves in situations where legal action through the courts is the only way forward, for example in cases of domestic violence or child protection.
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