12.65At the information session parties could receive information and advice about family support services and alternatives to litigation such as mediation. Information to educate parents on the psychological process of divorce and its effect on children would also be included, by way of oral presentation, video and information packs. The presentation would be made by persons with counselling and mediation training. Clients should also be informed by solicitors, the Legal Aid Department and the Duty Lawyer Service of the availability of information sessions. The information on such services could be contained in a pamphlet approved by the Family Court.
Referral to information session
12.66Encouragement by those involved in the family dispute resolution system, whether solicitors, judges, or indirectly, social workers, is necessary to ensure that as many parties as possible receive the benefit of attending information sessions. It will be possible to self-refer, though we anticipate that in the early days this will occur in only a minority of cases.
12.67We recommend that solicitors should be placed under an obligation to inform their clients about the availability of the information session. We recommend that the Family Court Judges should have the power to refer the parties to attend an information session. This would not be an order as such but would be a power to suspend further progress on the proceedings pending such attendance.
Obligation on solicitors
12.68The existing form 2A of the Matrimonial Causes Rules (Cap 179) requires the solicitor for the petitioner to certify whether or not he has discussed with his client the possibility of a reconciliation, and whether or not he has provided his client with the names and addresses of persons qualified to help effect a reconciliation.1215 The Hartmann Working Group recommended that Form 2A include mediation, especially for disputes relating to maintenance, access and ancillary relief. However, it recommended that the rules amending this Form should not come into force until after a pool of qualified mediators were available “and after due consultation with all the relevant parties”.1216 Many countries put solicitors under a statutory obligation to inform and encourage their clients to consider the possibility of reconciliation and, failing that, counselling and mediation.1217
12.69We recommend that solicitors should be obliged to inform and encourage their clients to consider the possibility of reconciliation, and the applicant (and the respondent when he is served with the pleadings) should be informed of the nature and purpose of counselling and mediation and offered a list of services for reconciliation, counselling and mediation. This information would be in a pamphlet approved by the Family Court.
1215 See rule 12 of the Matrimonial Causes Rules.
1216 Supra at 12.5.
1217 Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Ireland. Section 12 of the English Family Law Act 1996 gives power to the Lord Chancellor to make rules requiring legal representatives to inform parties of the availability of marriage support services and mediation and to give names and addresses of persons qualified to effect a reconciliation or in connection with mediation.