8.16Section 5 provides that a statement of marital breakdown must be filed by a party or the parties before a marriage is taken to have broken down irretrievably. Section 8 provides that the party making such a statement must attend a compulsory information meeting not less than three months before making the statement.862 The other party must attend before making any application with respect to a child of the family to the court or contesting any application. In response to the heavy criticism of the group information sessions, there will be an information meeting for each couple.
8.17An information meeting pilot project commenced in June 1997 in five locations. New pilots have been launched in October 1997 and January 1998. Further details are to be contained in the subsidiary legislation. In particular, the regulations will ensure that information about marriage support services, the importance of the welfare of the child, mediation, the availability of independent legal advice, legal aid, and the divorce process is furnished to the parties.863 The parties will also have the opportunity of attending a marriage counsellor after the information meeting.864
8.18There will be three gatekeepers - the information meeting, lawyers,865 and the court who can refer the parties for an information meeting about mediation.866 867 and seems more like a preliminary meeting prior to an intake session for mediation. Its purpose is to enable “an explanation to be given of the facilities available to the parties for mediation ... and of providing the parties with an opportunity to agree to take advantage of those facilities”.868
Green Paper on legal aid reform
8.19In England mediation is now perceived as the preferred method of dispute resolution for divorce and children’s cases which have consumed a disproportionate share of the legal aid budget. Therefore, it is not surprising that a government, wishing to expand mediation as a dispute resolution method, would use monies diverted from the legal aid funding of litigation. It is useful to consider the Government’s legal aid policy outlined in the Green Paper on legal aid and provisions in the Family Law Act 1996.869
862 Exceptions will be prescribed in the regulations. In Parliament the Lord Chancellor gave examples such as the housebound, the disabled, those who risked violence by going to a particular place and those in custody.
863 Section 8(9).
864 Section 8(6)(b).
865 Section 12(2) gives power to the Lord Chancellor to make rules requiring a legal representative to certify whether he has informed his client about the availability of mediation and marriage support services, and whether he has given his client names and addresses of persons who can help with reconciliation and mediation.
866 Section 13.
867 Section 8(6) defines an information meeting to mean “a meeting organised for the purpose of providing those attending with relevant information about matters which may arise in connection with the provisions of, or made under, this Part or Part III and giving an opportunity to attend a marriage counsellor and encouraging the parties to attend him or her.”
868 Section 13 (a) and (b).
869 Legal Aid - Targeting Need (1995: Cmnd 2854).