A group of seven North East law firms are launching a national initiative designed to help separating couples who may otherwise struggle to pay for legal assistance.
Lawyer-Supported Mediation combines fixed fee legal advice with family mediation, offering an affordable alternative.
The service, founded by trained mediator Marc Lopatin, comes at a time when more and more people are representing themselves at court, following the withdrawal of Legal Aid for most family cases.
It is now making its debut in the Newcastle area, the North East hub being led by family law specialist Major Family Law, which will be part of a selected panel of family law experts from across the region.
Other firms involved include Sintons, Beecham Peacock LLP, Carr & Co. Solicitors, McKeag and Co, Hindle Campbell, and Hay & Kilner.
Additional hubs will soon be launched in Leeds, Manchester and London, with the initiative eventually being rolled out nationally.
Lopatin said: “We dramatically reduce the costs of accessing legal experts by fusing their advice with family mediation, where separating couples can resolve their differences.
“We know from government data that two thirds of people who begin mediation go on to reach agreement, so we need to find new ways of encouraging more people to try.”
The law firms will be supported by mediation provider Family Mediation Northeast.
Mediator and director of the organisation, Margot Moffitt, said: “A service that brings together lawyers and mediators is very good news for separating families that cannot afford lawyers to do everything for them.
“Mediation works best when clients have access to affordable advice from lawyers who understand the value mediation offers.”
Joanne Major, family lawyer and owner of Major Family Law, said: “This is a real chance for the North East to lead the way in bringing down the cost of family law services. Working as a like-minded group of lawyers and mediators, we can put an end to the widely-held view that family lawyers are beyond the means of average income separating couples.”
Sue McArthur, a lawyer at McKeag & Co, which offers mediation services along Family Mediation Northeast, added: “Making available a lawyer and a mediator is not only more cost-effective – it also promotes informed dialogue over the uncertainty of going to court.”