Hard on the heels of Britain’s longest-running and most bitter divorce, the Government has said it will be pushing more couples towards mediation, whilst the price of applying for a divorce could rise to £750, as part of an overhaul of court fees by the Ministry of Justice.

The multi-million pound divorce case of Young v Young was, according to the judge, “extraordinary even by the standards of the most bitter of matrimonial breakdowns”.  The seven-year court battle between the couple has cost millions and notched up 65 hearings in court before the wife finally secured a £20m financial award last month.  And the case may yet return to court to deal with costs and enforcing the award.

The millions spent in the financial battle fought by the Youngs may come from another world, but the cost of divorce could rise for everyone under plans being considered by the Ministry of Justice.  As part of an overhaul of court funding, they are considering raising the court fee for a divorce petition to £750 for an uncontested divorce.  Currently the fee is £410 and the findings of the consultation will be announced later this year. 

But alongside, the Government is pushing ahead with plans intended to reduce the emotional and financial burden of the whole process. This is an announcement of more mediation for couples who are splitting up. 

Under proposed measures in the Children and Families Bill, in its final stages of going through Parliament, couples who are separating and want to apply for a court order about children or financial matters must first attend what is being called a “mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAMS)”.  Some exemptions will apply, such as evidence of domestic violence. This is the second attempt to direct couples away from the court environment.

Although some 120,000 couples in England and Wales separate every year, previous efforts by the Government to encourage couples into mediation have not seen good take-up, even though the results of mediation show that it is faster and cheaper than going to court – the average time for a mediated case is 110 days compared to 435 days for non-mediated cases.

Family law expert, John Stebbing of Stephen Rimmer LLP solicitors explained:  “In a court case, the judge will have much wider discretion, but it’s not the job of the judge to arrange a compromise that both sides can live with.  That’s where mediation comes in, as it gives both sides much more control over the outcome. The resolution needed in mediation is something both will want instead of a judge directed solution thrust upon them.  

“Some people struggle with the idea of mediation because they’re worried about being bullied or   seeing their ex. But you don’t have to sit in the same room and it doesn’t stop you having a legal adviser at your side to help put your case either” 

The remaining stages of the Children and Families Bill are expected to be completed in the next few months

There are increasing numbers of older couples splitting up – statistics show a 73% increase, between 1991 to 2011 in the number of men aged 60+ who are divorcing. Often older couples with a lifetime of asset growth behind them are well placed to mediate a solution, and find such an outcome more practical and focussed on their needs. Mediation is there, ready to help avoid expensive court based conflicts. 

He added: “Also if a couple make that tough decision and call time on their marriage, don’t overlook updating your wills.  If you have an existing will leaving everything to your spouse, that will become invalid once the decree absolute is confirmed, but until that time it is still valid even if you have separated or received your decree nisi.” 

John Stebbing of Stephen Rimmer LLP and in association with JAS Mediation Services       Telephone 01323 644222.  Email js@stephenrimmer.com

Young v Young [2013] EWHC 3637 (Fam)

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.