The Family Mediation Trust welcomed the opportunity to contribute to this consultation on matters pertaining to the family justice system. As a legal aid provider with 40 years of experience in the field, we are dedicated to promoting accessible and effective dispute resolution processes for families in need. Our organization is committed to upholding the principles of fairness, impartiality, and the best interests of the children involved.
Through our extensive work in the field of family mediation, we have witnessed first-hand the transformative power of alternative dispute resolution in fostering amicable resolutions and reducing the burden on the court system. Drawing from our expertise and experience, we provide valuable insights and perspectives on the role of court fees, the importance of financial accessibility, and the need for streamlined processes to support the overall objectives of the family justice system.
This consultation offered a valuable opportunity for stakeholders to come together and shape the future of family justice, ensuring that it remains accessible, fair, and efficient. We looked forward to contributing our knowledge and expertise to facilitate meaningful discussions and propose practical solutions that benefit all parties involved, particularly those from low-income backgrounds.
The Family Mediation Trust is dedicated to promoting positive change and improving the lives of families navigating the complexities of legal disputes. We are committed to working collaboratively with policymakers, legal professionals, and other stakeholders to create a more inclusive and effective family justice system that meets the diverse needs of families across our society.
Core response focused on:
a) Requirement for a reasonable attempt at mediation before making private law child arrangement applications, with government funding for mediation up to £500 per family:
While we support the encouragement for families to attempt mediation, we have concerns about the focus solely on the voucher, as it may hinder access for those with the lowest income who cannot afford the MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) cost. To ensure sustainability, it is crucial that legal aid provisions adequately cover the costs of mediation, enabling increased uptake and reduction in court waiting times. We must ensure that this push for mediation does not compromise its quality or create additional barriers to access.
b) Requirement to attend co-parenting programmes funded by the government:
We acknowledge the positive impact of co-parenting programs and support the referral of clients to such programs. However, it is important that attending these programs does not delay the mediation process or result in additional costs for parents with lower incomes, such as expenses for attending the course or paying for extra pre-mediation meetings.
c) Requirement for mediators to assess the suitability of parents for mandatory co-parenting programs:
We believe that well-trained mediators possess the necessary skills to effectively and safely assess the suitability of parents for co-parenting programs. However, the funding for mediation should adequately reflect the costs associated with conducting this assessment and managing a referral.
d) Requirement for mediators to assess whether parties have made a reasonable attempt to mediate:
Maintaining the impartiality of mediation is paramount. If mediators are compelled to provide opinion-based comments to the courts, the effectiveness of the mediation process may be compromised. However, if the determination of a reasonable attempt can be based on factual information, such as attendance or nonattendance, the mediation sector is prepared to support this requirement.
e) New accountability and enforcement measures for the court:
The proposed use of cost orders and new powers to mandate parties to attempt mediation post-application may inadvertently impact the lower-income parent who cannot afford legal representation. There is a risk that these sanctions could unfairly penalize the unrepresented or less legally capable party. It is crucial to consider the potential implications and ensure that the measures do not create undue hardships for vulnerable individuals.