Government moves to cut 'stressful' divorce battles

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Couple in silhouette

Separating couples in England and Wales will be helped to avoid court battles through more use of mediation services, the government has said.

Justice minister Simon Hughes said those applying for a court order about a child or financial matter must first attend sessions with an expert.

He added that this would ensure people could separate "in the least damaging way for everyone involved".

The move comes as the government is planning to cut legal aid by £220m.

Ministers say the average cost to the taxpayer of resolving a private family dispute following a relationship breakdown is approximately £500 per couple through mediation.

This rises to £4,000 per person in legal aid for issues settled through the courts, they add.

Under the scheme, being included in the Children and Families Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, trained mediators will talk to couples.

It is hoped this will allow them to reach agreements "which both of them are prepared to live with, rather than having them dictated by the court".

If this happens, couples will be able to ask a judge to consider and make their agreement into a legally binding and enforceable court order.

Mr Hughes said: "Mediation works and we are committed to making sure that more people make use of it, rather than go through the confrontational and stressful experience of going to court.

"When people separate we want them to do it in the least damaging way for everyone involved, especially children. That is why we want them to use the excellent mediation services available to agree a way forward, rather than have one forced upon them."

Couples will be exempt from having to attend sessions with mediators where claims of domestic violence are involved.