Ministry of Justice
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£1 million voucher scheme to help families resolve disputes outside of court

Separating parents will be helped to avoid stressful court battles through a new million-pound mediation scheme launched recently (26 March 2021) by the government.

  • 2,000 families to be given £500 towards costs of mediation – provided by government for the first time without a means test
  • more than 70% of couples using mediation services resolved their issues outside of the courtroom
  • move will help to alleviate pressures on the family courts resulting from the pandemic

Under the scheme, around 2,000 families will be able to apply for a £500 voucher towards the cost of mediation  – which is usually charged for unless one of the parties has access to legal aid.

Mediation is often a quicker and cheaper way of resolving disputes, which can spare families the trauma of attending court and the impact this can have on children. It involves couples working through their differences – led by a trained and accredited mediator – to reach agreements they are both prepared to accept, such as how to split assets or arranging child contact times, rather than have a judge decide for them. They can then ask a court to consider their agreement and make it into a legally binding and enforceable court order.

Research suggests that more than 70% of those using these services will resolve their issues outside of courtroom.

The move will also help to alleviate pressures on the family courts system resulting from the pandemic by diverting cases better suited for mediation away from the courts.

Courts Minister, Lord Wolfson QC, recently said:

Mediation is often a quicker, cheaper and less stressful way of resolving disputes, which helps separating couples reach amicable agreements without an unnecessary and often acrimonious court process.

Our new scheme will open up the benefits of these services to even more families – sparing them the stress of long legal battles, while also helping to lessen the pressure on our family courts as we recover from the pandemic.

Tom and Bryony had separated but were having arguments about contact with their children which was having an impact on 7-year-old Declan and 5 year old Luci-Anne. They were helped by their mediator Eleanor and recently said:

Eleanor helped us to get on with making things work on a practical level. To some extent, we had to put aside the angry feelings we had towards each other. This wasn’t easy, but we both felt that doing so would be best for the children.

We are confident that mediation helped us move things on in a way that wouldn’t have really been possible if we had just carried on slugging it out.  

John Taylor, Chair of the Family Mediation Council recently said:

This government investment in mediation is much welcomed by the Family Mediation Council. It will help separated families agree solutions that are best for their children, taking into account what is going to be important for them as they grow up.

Family mediation is a proven cost-effective way to resolve differences following separation. This voucher scheme will make it even more accessible, and will help families resolve issues for themselves, without having to go to court.

The scheme is eligible for families seeking to resolve private law or financial matters relating to children – for example child arrangement orders or financial disputes regarding a child’s upbringing.

If a case is eligible for vouchers, the mediator will automatically claim back the contributions from the government.

The move forms part of recent action by the government to help reduce family conflict, including introducing new laws to spare divorcing couples the need to apportion blame for the breakdown of their marriage.

The recent announcement follows a major overhaul of the family courts announced last year to better protect victims of domestic abuse, including an automatic entitlement for special measures in courtrooms and stronger powers for judges to stop abusers repeatedly dragging their victims to court. Meanwhile, a £76 million investment into the Family Court and tribunal systems will help to boost capacity during the pandemic.

Notes to Editors

  • The scheme will be administered by the Family Mediation Council (FMC), on behalf of the MOJ. 
  • Further information about the scheme and how it works will be provided to parties at their Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM), which all those involved in family cases are required to attend, unless they have a valid exemption.
  • Mediation can be undertaken by other family members, not just separating parents.
  • In June, 2020, we announced a major overhaul of the family courts to protect domestic abuse victims which included more special protections in courts, stronger powers for judges, and piloting Integrated Domestic Abuse Courts.
  • In June, 2020, the Divorce Act received Royal Assent, which will remove the needless ‘blame game’ that can harm children while ensuring couples have the time to reflect, plan for the future, or if necessary to turn back. This is due to come into force later this year.
  • We’re investing record amounts across our courts and tribunals, with £142 million to improve buildings – the biggest single investment in court estate maintenance for more than 20 years – and we’re spending £113 million on a range of emergency measures to tackle the impact of COVID-19, including the recruitment of at least 1,600 additional staff.
  • The names in the case studies above have had their names changed to protect their identities.  

What is family mediation?

  • 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 mediator is not there to tell each side what to do, but can help them reach an agreement while trying to improve communication between them. They aren’t there to try and keep couples together but help them find a practical way forward after a relationship has broken down.
  • Mediation allows the parties to stay in control, as no one will be forced to do or agree to anything against their wishes. Unlike in a courtroom both partners can agree to a solution rather than have a judge decide for them.
  • The mediator will work with the parties, either together or separately, to help them find a solution which works for them both.
  • Mediation can be less stressful than going to court, especially for children who are involved in proceedings. It is also cheaper than going through the court process, and it is also confidential unlike proceedings in the family court.
  • Currently, funded mediation is available only for those who meet the financial requirements through the Legal Aid scheme. If you don’t qualify then you will need to pay for mediation sessions.
  • Agreements made in mediation can be made legally binding by a court if necessary and the legal support to do this can be offered.

Related link

Family mediation voucher scheme guidance

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Channel website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ministry-of-justice

Original article link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/1-million-voucher-scheme-to-help-families-resolve-disputes-outside-of-court

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