Lawyers will be kept out of thousands of family dispute cases every year in a shake-up of divorce laws.
By Nick Collins
Published: 7:30AM BST 18 Oct 2010
A government review is to recommend the introduction of a compulsory mediation stage before any financial or custodial dispute is heard in court.
The plan, to be published at the start of next year, will also introduce briefer and simpler hearings for cases that cannot be resolved by mediation.
David Norgrove, who is leading the review, described the "tremendous strain" being put on the current system by the rising number of disputes coming before the courts.
The number of divorce cases rose 16 per cent to 137,000 last year, with the average childcare case taking more than 12 months to be completed.
It is hoped that the new mediation stage will reduce legal aid costs by up to £100 million, while fewer expert witnesses would be required to testify before the courts.
Mr Norgrove told The Times the family justice system costs more than £1.6 billion, but that nine in every ten cases could be dealt with out of court.
He said evidence showed that: "If you can get both parties to learn about mediation, the great majority will go on to use it."
Sir Nicholas Wall, the most senior judge in England and Wales, said the system should be made "less adversarial" as he attacked selfish parents for failing to consider their children's wellbeing.
Under the new system, couples could be forced to take parenting classes as well as being referred to mediators, with court rooms acting as a last resort.
Judges would also be able to advise parents early into legal proceedings what the likely outcome would be, in an effort to force through an agreement and avoid long and expensive cases.