Thousands more parents facing separation are to benefit from an extension of the government’s family mediation scheme.
The government has announced that an extra £1.3 million is to be added to its family mediation scheme with the aim of helping more couples settle disputes without using the courts.
Introduction of the family mediation voucher scheme
The scheme was introduced in March 2021 with initial funding of £1 million. It provides mediation vouchers to couples with children who are separating and who need help resolving disputes over arrangements for their children and their financial issues.
In June, an additional £800,000 was added to the scheme and to date some 4,400 vouchers, each worth £500, have been used. The Ministry of Justice says that 77% of clients using the scheme have achieved full or partial settlement. Nearly half said that they would not have considered mediation if vouchers had not been available.
When a couple are in disagreement over issues relating to their children and cannot reach a negotiated agreement, they will generally be required to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting, or MIAM. This is a meeting with a mediator at which you will be able to outline your situation. The mediator will explain the mediation process to you as well as any other available options, and at the end of the meeting will tell you whether or not your case is suitable for mediation. The mediator will also discuss the voucher scheme with you if your case is likely to be eligible.
The benefits of mediation
Mediation has numerous benefits, particularly when dealing with disputes relating to children. In fact, in almost all cases, couples will not be granted access to the courts until they have at least considered mediation by attending a MIAM.
Mediation is generally a much quicker process than litigation, particularly if the family courts have a backlog of cases. Unlike court, a decision will not be imposed upon you following mediation. Instead, a neutral mediator will work with you and your child’s other parent to help you understand the options available to you and to see whether you can reach a compromise agreement. Any decision must be agreed upon by both of you.
This approach helps parents to work together in the best interests of their children and can promote a better relationship going forward. This is clearly a big advantage as parents will need to continue to parent their children together and where they have managed to agree on how this will be done, it will reduce friction and make it more likely that both parents will adhere to the terms of the agreement.
Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab said:
“I want to see children and their parents spared the stress and conflict of the courtroom as much as possible, and I’m delighted that thousands more will now have the opportunity to resolve their disputes in less combative way.
“At the same time, it will free up vital capacity in the family courts to ensure the system can recover quickly from the pandemic.”
Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce said:
“The government’s continued commitment to invest in the family mediation voucher scheme to help minimise conflict between separating couples is good news.
“Steps to address the backlog in the family court system are helpful. However, data shows a straight line between the removal of private family proceedings from the scope of legal aid funding and a reduction in mediations.
“We have repeatedly said early legal advice for family law cases – cut by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) in 2013 – should be restored.
“By restoring early legal advice for family law cases, fewer cases will go to court. Instead, there will be negotiated settlement, referral to mediation and management of client expectations.
“Solicitors are best placed to assess all alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options with their clients, and to keep them out of court where possible and desirable. We look forward to continuing to work with the FMC, MoJ and our family mediation members to evaluate the scheme.”
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