Government proposals set to steer families away from stress, costs and delays
New government family law proposals could accelerate a cultural shift for separating couples away from family courts, says The Family Mediation Council (“the FMC”).
A series of new measures proposed in a consultation this week by the Ministry of Justice aim to help separating families see out-of-court dispute resolution as their first stop.
“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.
“These proposals could accelerate a cultural shift, steering couples away from the family court, and helping them see that mediation can produce outcomes for all family members which are better than those the court could provide.
“This consultation shows Ministers recognise the value of family mediation in helping separating couples make parenting and financial arrangements without all the complications involved in going to court.
“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.”
Family mediation is a process that helps separating couples make arrangements over parenting, property and money, in a way that lets them keep more control of their family’s future.
“In family mediation an independent, professionally-trained mediator helps you work these things out, enabling you to avoid courtroom confrontation,” adds John Taylor. “Professional mediators help you to create long-term solutions for your particular circumstances, rather than leaving it to a court to make decisions for your family.”
He said the new consultation builds on the government’s successful £500 voucher scheme, which is encouraging separating couples to consider family mediation to resolve their disputes.
The FMC will meet and issue its response to the detail of the proposals in the coming weeks, and John Taylor is urging all accredited mediators in England and Wales to respond to the consultation.
“The experience and expertise of accredited family mediators are going to be vital factors in ensuring that any changes have the best possible impact on families which in future find themselves facing separation or divorce,” he said.
“The FMC will be responding to the consultation positively and constructively and will encourage family mediators across England and Wales to get involved in this important consultation process.”
The Ministry of Justice consultation on private family law seeks views on how the UK Government can support families agree 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.
The changes form part of the Ministry of Justice’s priority to reduce demand on the family courts by reducing backlogs and diverting unnecessary cases away from the court. This spares families and protects children from lengthy and stressful courtroom battles which can have an adverse impact on the development and life chances of a young person. This also means that the family courts can better prioritise the more serious family cases with safeguarding concerns such as domestic abuse.
The Government has also announced a two-year extension to its currently voucher scheme, to encourage more people to consider mediation as a means of resolving their disputes, where appropriate. To support this, a financial contribution of up to £500 towards the costs of mediation relating to children will be provided, if eligible. Only mediators authorised by the FMC are taking part in the voucher scheme. The scheme had been due to run to 31 March 2023 but the government has announced that this will be extended until 2025. An analysis of the first 7,200 users of the scheme shows 69% of participants have reached whole or partial agreements away from court.
Note to editor
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