THOUSANDS of separating couples in Greater Manchester are being urged to spurn confrontational courtroom battles and use mediation to sort out disputes over their property, finances and children, as new figures reveal that Manchester County Court is one of the 10 busiest divorce courts in England and Wales.

In light of these figures Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes has called on parents and couples who have made the difficult decision to divorce to use mediation to sort out disputes over their property, finances and children, rather than face the stressful experience of going to court.

He said people can now use the new user-friendly Family Mediation Council website to find a local mediator to help them.

Simon Hughes said: “Mediation works in helping to sort out disputes over finances and children. 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.

“These figures show thousands of people are sadly still divorcing each year. 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 in the courts.”

Mediation uses negotiations to reach agreements which both people are prepared to live with, rather than having them dictated by the court. It is led by a trained and certified mediator and couples can ask a court to consider and make their agreement into a legally binding and enforceable court order.

In 2012/13 more than 17,000 people successfully used legally-aided family mediation – which is often quicker, cheaper and produces longer lasting results than going to court – to sort out disputes over their property, finances and children.

The Government continues to provide millions of pounds of legal aid so that more separating couples can make use of mediation – and in some cases financial help is also available for legal support for the process.

The Government has introduced major changes in the Children and Families Act that makes sure separating parents and couples have to first consider using mediation to resolve the issues around divorce and separation – such as splitting finances and property or agreeing child contact times – rather than fighting over it in court.

The new law, which comes into effect on April 22, changes the process so that a person who wants to apply for a court order about a children or financial matter must first attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) Exemptions from this requirement will apply, such as where there is evidence of domestic violence.

Research shows that mediation can help people to reach solutions more quickly and cheaply and that couples who use mediation are less likely to need to return to the legal system to sort out ongoing issues.

As it is a less confrontational process than taking a battle to court, it is also less traumatic for any children involved.

  • Manchester County Court received 1,541 divorce petitions in 2013, making it the 10th busiest court. Birmingham topped the list with 2,655.
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