Family mediation is a process where separating couples work with a qualified and accredited mediator to reach agreements - on issues such as financial arrangements or child custody - without going to court. This process has been voluntary in England and Wales until now; but new proposals from the Ministry of Justice aim to make mediation mandatory in low level family court cases where it is suitable.
Under the new proposals, separating parents will be required to attempt to resolve their issues through mediation before resorting to court action. This move is expected to help up to 19,000 families avoid court proceedings and ease the backlog in the family courts. It is also hoped that this will reduce the impact on children who witness their parents battling in court.
The government’s family mediation Voucher Scheme - which provides separating couples with vouchers worth up to £500 to help them solve disputes through mediation - will be extended until April 2025 with an additional £15 million in funding.
The new proposals will be subject to a 12-week government consultation, which will run until June 15. The justice secretary, Dominic Raab, has said that the new plans will divert thousands of time consuming family disputes away from the courts; to protect children, and ensure the most urgent cases involving domestic abuse survivors are heard by a court as quickly as possible.
An analysis of the first 7,200 users of the mediation scheme shows that 69% of participants have reached whole or partial agreements away from court. This suggests that mediation can be an effective way of resolving family disputes and avoiding court proceedings.
It is worth noting that mediation will not be mandatory in cases where allegations or a history of domestic violence are involved. This is an important safeguard for survivors of domestic abuse, who may not feel safe engaging in the mediation process.
The proposals also include a new power for judges to order parents to make a reasonable attempt to go to mediation; with possible financial penalties if they act unreasonably and harm a child’s well being by prolonging court proceedings.
The Ministry of Justice’s new proposals to make mediation mandatory in low level family court cases are aimed at helping families resolve issues away from the courtroom, while reducing the impact on children and the backlog in the family courts. The proposals will be subject to consultation, and it is hoped that they will provide an effective way of resolving family disputes without the need for court action.