8.9Parker and Parkinson suggested that conciliation could take place while waiting for legal aid to be granted or a court hearing date.852 Conciliation encouraged direct communication between the spouses and this encouraged them to negotiate future arrangement for the children. Conciliation can help where an “emotional” divorce has not yet taken place in conjunction with the legal and financial divorce. If the “emotional divorce” does not take place then the spouses “remain enmeshed in conflict with harmful consequences not only for themselves but also for their children”.853
8.10Parker and Parkinson stressed early intervention as “research clearly indicates that if access is not agreed at an early stage it is more difficult to establish regular access subsequently, after contact has been broken between the children and the parent who left home.”854 Another research finding was that the arrangements parents make at the time of separation generally set the pattern for the future.855 They concluded that “ideally conciliation and legal advice should proceed in tandem, each helping the other to provide the maximum assistance to couples in the process of separation and divorce”.856 Suggestions about children’s needs and feelings may be more acceptable to parents if they are offered by a neutrally placed conciliator who has an explicit professional concern for the family as a whole.857
8.11Davis suggested that the introduction of formal mediation appointments by the court was important because such procedures “provide a tangible manifestation of the court’s commitment to a settlement seeking approach”. Mediation should not be merely seen as an efficient processing of a dispute. As most cases settle anyway mediation should be assessed in terms of its impact on the timing and quality of divorce settlements.
Divorce law reform
8.12The Lord Chancellor’s Department, in a White Paper, Looking to the Future - Mediation and the Ground for Divorce,858 suggested the following reforms:
(1)“No fault” divorce should be introduced,
(2)there should be increased information about the divorce process through mandatory divorce information sessions,
(3)couples will be expected to use mediation rather than litigation to resolve their disputes about divorce and ancillary matters,
852 Supra at 272.
854 Ibid at 273.
855 Mitchell, Children in the middle, (1985).
856 Parker and Parkinson, ”Solicitors and Family Conciliation Services-a basis for professional co-operation”, 15 Fam Law (1985) 270 at 274.
858 (April 1995: Cmnd 2799), HMSO. The department had published a Consultation Paper of the same name in December 1993 (Cmnd 2424).