Journal Article

Is there a future for lawyers in divorce?

J Walker

in International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family

Volume 10, issue 1, pages 52-73
Published in print April 1996 | ISSN: 1360-9939
Published online April 1996 | e-ISSN: 1464-3707 | DOI:
Is there a future for lawyers in divorce?

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  • Family Law
  • Marriage and the Family


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In 1995 the UK Government introduced controversial proposals for divorce reform. As debate of the proposals escalates, there is growing concern, notably within the legal profession, that the emphasis on family mediation will substantially limit the involvement of lawyers in the divorce process. Based on research this paper reviews the respective roles of mediators and lawyers, arguing that they need to offer complementary services within a framework which heralds a new culture ad climate in the approach to marriage breakdown. Co-operation rather than competition would seem to offer a constructive way forward. Meeting a variety of needs is a considerable challenge, not only for the professions but also for the Government, at a time of far-reaching change in family life.

For the past fifteen years there has been growing support in the United Kingdom for family mediation, promoted by its advocates as offereing a bette way of settling disputes associatd with marital breakdown than that afforded by the traditional adversarial process. Against a background of rapidly rising divorce rates, the publication 1974 of the Finer Report (Report of the Committe on One-Parent Families, 1974, Cmnd 5629) drew attention to the benefits of 'conciliation' as a new process which would engender 'common sense, reasonableness and agreement in dealing with the consequences of the breakdown'. Although the Committee's recommendations were not acted on by government, the enthusiasm and determination of some members of the legal and social work professions led to the estabishment of various innovations in family mediation from the late 1970s onwards (Walker 1987a). As the number divorces has continued to rise, repeated calls for government action to reform the divorce process and to fund mediaton services have followed, based on claims (not always well substantiated) that mediation can reduce conflict and improve communication between separating parents, thereby encouraging them to reach mutually acceptable agreements about future arrangements, particularly in relation to children. A further claim, and one which has led lawyers to see the recent proposals for divorce reform as primarily treasury-driven, relates to expectations of a reduction the costs associated with divorce, specifically those borne by the Exchequer in legal aid provision.

Over the years there have been many developments and shifts in family mediation; terminology has changed from 'conciliation' to 'mediation'; the early focus on children's issues has been extended to encompass mediation on all issues, including finance and property; increasing numbers of lawyers have chosen to train as mediators, working in parnership with family mediators in both voluntary asnd private services; a code of practice has emerged; national training programmes have been introduced and refined; and most recently, plans for a United Kingdom College of Family Mediators have been drawn up. Yet mediation services have struggled to survive and usage has remained low (Conciliation Project Unit 1989; Walker, McCartrhy and Timms, 1994).

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Family Law ; Marriage and the Family

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