Compulsory mediation ruled out for separating couples

As we delve into the government's recent announcements regarding the family justice system, we would like to provide a nuanced response with particular attention to certain critical aspects that require special consideration regarding mediation. The report does address many other areas, such as improved information for families; these will obviously make a marked impact on helping families.

It is crucial to contextualize these reforms within the broader societal landscape. This marks the first year where the number of adults in married relationships has fallen below 50%. We also know that 49% of children in loan parent households live in poverty, highlighting the evolving complexity of relationships, families, separations, and debt.

Domestic Abuse and Safeguarding: 

The report acknowledges the impact of domestic abuse on family dynamics and emphasizes a commitment to improving the screening and training of mediators in this context. It would be wrong to conclude from the report that mediators are not already trained in domestic abuse screening and case management; this is a fundamental skill for all mediators. The FMC standards clearly set out requirements in domestic abuse screening training in foundation training, CPD training, and in the delivery of Child Inclusive Mediation and MIAM delivery.

Improving working relationships between mediators and support in creating Domestic Abuse screening tools is a step in the right direction; we stress the necessity for ongoing collaboration with leading domestic abuse organizations to ensure the safety of vulnerable individuals. It is essential to continually refine and adapt strategies to safeguard those who may not initially recognize the extent of abuse they have experienced.

Access to Legal Advice:

Legal advice is a critical step for families, one many fail to access due to costs. The government has a scheme open to help, but due to underfunding, this has largely dropped into obscurity. The idea of a pilot is supported, but we need to ensure that we have a clear set of principles to judge it by. Any pilot must also clearly focus on those who cannot afford legal advice. Connecting this advice to mediation, possibly insisting on a MIAM completion before accessing the advice, would ensure that these two powerful tools worked in partnership. We look forward to engaging in any consultation in the design of the scheme.

Impact on Children:

Children bear a significant burden during divorce and separation. We appreciate the focus on child-inclusive mediation, such as the inclusion of mediation in the advanced DBS scheme and the investigative approach in private law proceedings. However, the report could benefit from a more explicit emphasis on the psychological well-being of children navigating familial disputes. Acknowledging and addressing the unique challenges children face during these processes is paramount for fostering healthy family dynamics.

Limited New Activity and Previous Announcements: 

It is important to note that several of the announced initiatives, such as the Mediation Voucher Scheme commitment (23rd March 2023), changes to the Child Maintenance Scheme (13th November 2023), and court procedure rule changes (8th December 2023), have been previously introduced by the government. While ongoing support for these programs is appreciated, we encourage the government to outline fresh, innovative strategies to address evolving challenges in family justice. The consultation set out to drive mediation towards a position of being compulsory; the findings add little to no weight to encouraging a greater engagement of parents in mediation.

Impact on Families of Limited Means:

While the report highlights the positive impact of various programs, we would like to stress the importance of tailoring these initiatives to the needs of lower-income families. It is crucial to ensure equitable access to resources and support for families across all socio-economic backgrounds. The report failed to address the challenging issue of Legal Aid for mediation and why payment rates have not been reviewed since 2004! Alternative Dispute Resolution options can be effective, but if you are on a low income, which sadly more and more parents are, then even accessing a MIAM is impossible without legal aid.

Focus on Children's Struggles:

Children often find themselves caught in the crossfire during family disputes. It is vital to place a strong emphasis on child-centric approaches that prioritize their mental and emotional well-being. Initiatives should be continuously evaluated to measure their effectiveness in promoting positive outcomes for children.

We appreciate the government's efforts to reform the family justice system and recognize the inherent challenges in navigating the complexities of modern relationships. We look forward to continued collaboration to address these challenges comprehensively and ensure that the reforms have a lasting positive impact on families, particularly children.

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