Divorce mediation is not new A different type of mediation

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The Independent Online
SUZANNE GLASS highlights areas that pose problems for the Lord Chancellor's proposed divorce reforms ("Mediation: who needs it?", 30 April) but concentrates on mediation as practised by the independent organ- isations. However, motivated, fee-paying, articulate couples prepared to work through a long drawn-out process of give and take may not be typical of separating partners. By far the greatest number of mediations in England and Wales are carried out not in the voluntary sector, at a cost to each person of, apparently, hundreds of pounds, but by the statutory Family Court Welfare Service at a cost to the individual of precisely nothing.

These mediations focus on disputes about the arrangements for children and are ordered by the court; many clients are eager to participate in a non-litigious process of resolving difficulties, but many more are resistant to the process. Nevertheless, in West Glamorgan, where nearly 300 mediations took place last year, we expect to achieve a level of agreement in 80 per cent of cases. In most cases we do this in one meeting. We are used to working with victims of domestic violence and with couples where the power within a relationship is so weighted towards one person that the joint meeting described would be wholly inequitable; negotiation by mediators ensures each person is heard.

We would usually avoid including the children in media-tion appointments. The Children Act emphasises the need for children's wishes to be heard, but mediated agreements are about sharing responsibility for the outcome of the end of a relationship; we cannot expect children to carry that responsibility.

Had Suzanne Glass looked at the way in which the Family Court Welfare Service works she may have felt more optimistic about the proposed changes. For us they are not a radical shift, but a progression from our present work into a wider arena.

Ann Cowper

West Glamorgan Family

Court Welfare, Swansea