On the 23 March 2023, the government made an announcement in relation to their plans to make mediation mandatory for suitable separated families in England and Wales. Family Mediation is a process in which an independent, professionally trained mediator helps parties work out arrangements for children and finances where there is a dispute. The aim of these plans is to protect children from the damaging impact of courtroom battles between parents.
The proposals will see mediation become mandatory in all suitable low-level family court cases, save for those that include allegations or a history of domestic violence.
This means that separating couples will have to attempt to agree the arrangements for the children, and also financial arrangements, through a qualified mediator. The court action should be a last resort.
The government predict that this move could help up to 19,000 separating families resolve their issues away from the courtroom.
In turn, this will reduce the court backlogs and ease pressures on the family courts. The aim is to ensure the justice system can focus on the families that are most in need of protection and judicial intervention. The Court will therefore be able to better prioritise and provide protection for the most serious cases with safeguarding concerns. The government predict that approximately 36,000 vulnerable families will benefit from faster hearings and quicker resolutions.
In the interim period, prior to these plans being enforced, the government’s Family Mediation Voucher Scheme will be extended until April 2025, with the government investing a further £15 million in funding.
This scheme provides separating couples with vouchers worth up to £500.00 to help them solves disputes without the requirement for court intervention. So far, the scheme has supported 15,300 families. To find out if you are eligible please follow the following link- Family Mediation Voucher Scheme – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
It has been suggested that the overhaul of the procedure for separating families could introduce a new power for judges to order parties to make a reasonable attempt to mediate with possible financial penalties if they act unreasonably and harm a child’s wellbeing by prolonging court proceedings.
Utilising the service of mediation at an early stage can assist many families in narrowing any issues they have between them following a separation.
Mediation does not need to be an alternative to seeking legal advice and it is possible for solicitors and mediators to work collaboratively with parties to help them achieve a resolution. Our trained and experienced professionals can support you and provide you with advice in respect of your legal position which can assist you in understanding your rights when using the services of a mediator to resolve a dispute.
If you have used a mediator and been successful in reaching an agreement in respect of financial matters and wish to make the settlement binding, our expert solicitors can assist in preparing the relevant documentation to finalise and conclude all matters and protect your position.Amelia Fernley, Trainee Solicitor
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