Family law cases to be diverted to mediation, with few exceptions.
“New government family law proposals could accelerate a cultural shift for separating couples away from family courts” says The Family Mediation Council (the “FMC”).
The Ministry of Justice has just launched a consultation seeking views on how Government can support families in private family law cases, in agreeing their child and financial arrangements without going through the family courts.
The consultation makes three main proposals:
- Making mediation a pre-court requirement in low level family dispute cases.
- Introducing a power for judges to impose cost orders (financial penalties), in appropriate cases, on separating couples who do not make a reasonable attempt to mediate.
- Introducing a requirement for parents to attend co-parenting programmes pre-court, instead of these programmes being referred to separating couples by a judge during court proceedings.
Why are these mediation rules changing?
The driver for this consultation is the Ministry of Justice’s wish to reduce demand on the family courts, reducing backlogs and diverting cases to mediation, allowing them to better prioritise the more serious cases that involve safeguarding concerns such as domestic abuse.
Diverting low level family cases to mediation would spare families the delay, costs and enormous stresses of Court, protecting children from lengthy and stressful courtroom battles which can have an adverse impact on their development and life chances.
“Too many separating couples currently see a default position of taking their dispute to a family court, with all the costs, stress and delays that involves,” says John Taylor, Chair of the FMC.
“It will help shine further light on a process that has the potential to help many thousands more separating couples for many years to come.”
What is the view of Horizon Mediation on these latest changes?
As accredited family mediators we appreciate the important role mediation can play in dispute resolution and are delighted that the consultation shines a greater light on the work we do.
We want more a more people to be aware of mediation and its benefits and here at Horizon Mediation we want to let you know of all the different kinds of family mediation we offer, be it around finances, arrangements for children, and/or child inclusive mediation.
We are also conscious that more parents should be made aware of the relatively recently introduced **Government Voucher Scheme which gives more parents the opportunity to mediate who would otherwise not have afforded it; and the stats., the Secretary of State for Justice quotes, for cases successfully disposed of under this scheme, look good.
However, they are based on couples who are willing to enter into the process voluntarily and who are willing to work together to find a way of resolving the issues between them.
So whilst mediation should be encouraged, and more people made aware of its potential in dispute resolution, it will be important for the government to ensure it avoids the pit fall of making the process compulsory.
As my grandfather told me “you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”
What is the power of family mediation?
The power of mediation is its ability to offer a neutral non-judgemental space for couples who need someone to help them work through their issues. It requires trust and understanding. There will need to be extreme caution exercised by judges who see fit to impose cost penalties on those who do not attend mediation, because it is not only those cases where issues around safeguarding arise that are not suitable for mediation.
The Government is reluctant to pay once, it will not want to pay twice, and in addition run the risk of diminishing the power of mediation for those for whom it is suitable.
**The Government has also announced a two-year extension to their Voucher Scheme, to encourage more people to consider mediation as a means of resolving their disputes. A financial contribution of up to £500 is available to eligible parents (£250 each) to meet mediation costs relating to children.
The Family Mediation Voucher Scheme is something we at Horizon Mediation are able to provide you as our team are all FMC accredited mediators; only accredited mediators authorised by the FMC can take part in the scheme.
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