The Independent

Divorce legislation criticised in report

By Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent
The Independent
21 December 2000

New divorce laws aimed at making separation less acrimonious and saving millions of pounds in legal aid are not working.

Under a national pilot scheme, introduced two years ago, couples who want legal aid to pay for lawyers must first consider mediation. But fewer than half of the country's divorcing couples recommended for mediation have used it successfully.

The results of the Legal Services Commission study, published yesterday, criticises part three of the Family Law Act 1996, for having a "preoccupation in achieving savings in the cost of legal services through diverting customers to cheaper services".

The study, carried out by researchers at Bristol University, also concludes that couples are being forced to consider mediation too early. After talking to more than 1,000 couples the researchers concluded that divorcing couples wanted lawyers as well as mediators.

The findings follow an earlier report from researchers at Newcastle University, which showed the system of information meetings intended to trigger mediation was flawed and could cost £40m a year.

At present a divorce can be obtained after two years, if both parties consent, or otherwise after five years.