Mediation is seen as key to no-fault divorces: Court must approve settlement terms

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A NETWORK of mediation centres to help separating couples reach agreement over children and finances will be a central plank of a Green Paper proposing 'no fault' divorce after a wait of 12 months.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the Lord Chancellor, has had objections from Cabinet colleagues that the reform is at odds with the party's belief in 'family values', but will make clear his strong support for the proposal made by the Law Commission in 1990.

John Redwood, Secretary of State for Wales, urged a two-year delay, reflecting the current position where adultery or unreasonable behaviour is not alleged, while John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, argued that fault should remain a feature of divorce law. But, while options reflecting those views will be included, the paper - and Lord Mackay when he presents it on Monday - will leave little doubt the commission's view is favoured.

The paper will urge an end to 'quickie' divorces based on adultery or behaviour, which can be obtained in three to five months under the present law. Instead, a divorce on the sole ground of irretrievable marriage breakdown should be granted at the end of a 12- month period of reflection, provided the couple have resolved all the practical consequences of the break-up to the satisfaction of a court. There would be provision for immediate protection against violence and temporary orders covering occupation of the family home.

The paper, Looking to the future: mediation and the ground for divorce, follows three years' work by the Lord Chancellor's Department to develop mediation. The process is geared to ensuring that if a marriage cannot be saved, it is ended with maximum fairness and minimum bitterness.

Earlier suggestions that mediation should be compulsory and a pre-requisite to legal aid have, in effect, been dropped. Couples will be urged to attend mediation centres but will also be entitled to consult lawyers or sort out their affairs between themselves.

The department believes, however, that because agreement over arrangements, especially for children, will be a pre-condition for the divorce, fewer cases will be contested, leading to legal aid savings.

There are question marks, however, over the establishment and cost of a national mediation service. While many services offering mediation over children already exist, relatively few are qualified to offer mediation on financial issues.

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