In Weisz v Weisz & Ors, Francis J highlights the cost benefits of alternative methods of dispute resolution, including mediation.
Mediation is an established method of resolving disputes outside of Court proceedings. It is suitable for most types of disputes including inheritance disputes.
What is mediation?
Mediation is when an independent party (the mediator), in an informal setting, assists the parties to a dispute in working towards reaching a settlement. A mediator does not judge the dispute and does not rule upon the rights and wrongs of the claim. It is a type of shuttle diplomacy.
The advantages of mediation in inheritance disputes
A settlement achieved through mediation can offer a more innovative solution to a dispute than might be achieved through the more formal structure of a Court judgement. It is usually a cheaper way of resolving a dispute when compared with the cost of taking a matter to trial. Generally, mediation is a fluid process which can be designed so as to best assist the participants towards achieving a settlement.
Court v Mediation
It is not “either/or”. The Courts fully endorse mediation and whilst it is not mandatory to mediate, an unreasonable refusal to mediate can be penalised by the Court through adverse costs sanctions. It can be prohibitively expensive (when compared to the value at stake in a given dispute) to take a claim to trial. Despite best efforts, legal costs can swiftly rack up, partly on account of the formalities of procedure required in pursuing a claim. This fact alone should make mediation attractive to the parties. This position was highlighted recently by the judge in Weisz v Weisz & Ors  EWHC 3101 (Fam). This case concerned a claim brought under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. An interlocutory application for interim relief was made within the main action. At the hearing of this application, Francis J expressed his concern at the high level of costs already incurred by the parties in connection with the one day application. He estimated these costs to be in the region of £74,000, noting that the total amount being sought in the application was a lump sum of £75,000 and £8,500 per month. In his judgment Francis J referred to the benefits of mediation as a means of the parties resolving a claim in a cost effective way.
Inheritance Disputes Summary
In inheritance disputes feelings often run high and the parties may be reluctant to compromise because of what they perceive to be the principles behind the dispute. There is no crystal ball to determine the outcome of a Court claim where there is an element of discretion afforded to the Court. It behoves legal advisers to work hard towards assisting their clients to recognise the benefits of achieving an early (earlier) resolution through mediation rather than face the prospect of losing or suffering a pyrrhic victory where the legal costs may become disproportionate to the sum at stake.