Ministry of Justice
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Thousands of families spared from damaging courtroom conflict

More than 27,000 separating families have saved money, protected their children and avoided lengthy, combative courtroom battles, thanks to a £23.6 million government scheme.

  • over 27,000 families supported through amicable separation by vouchers scheme  
  • two-thirds of families using mediation spared court, saving time and money 
  • greater focus on young people’s voices as child-inclusive mediation rises

The Family Mediation Voucher Scheme provides funding to help families navigate the complexities of separation, giving them the opportunity to settle issues around childcare and finances outside of court.

Separating couples work with experts to reach agreements with less conflict and greater emphasis on the voices of children. Early analysis from the first 7,200 families to use the scheme, shows more than two-thirds reached agreement without the need to go to court.

Through the voucher scheme, families can access a contribution of up to £500 towards their mediation, greater than the average claimed voucher cost of £424.

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk KC, said:

Separation can be incredibly painful, but we know it is made more traumatic with toxic and protracted courtroom battles, which can cause lasting damage to children.

This is why we’re determined to take the temperature down. We’ve already delivered on no-fault divorces, and it’s really positive to see the success of our voucher scheme. I hope more will feel able to take up this offer.

Anna Vollans, chair of the Family Mediators Association, has noticed a huge uplift in the number of separation proceedings being resolved through mediation since the scheme launched in 2021.

A mediator with more than 10 years’ experience, she said:

The vouchers are incredibly positive, because they allow people to try mediation who would never have considered it before which is game-changing. Most are surprised to discover they can reach a resolution in just a few sessions, and can leave with clear parenting and financial plans and the confidence to make it work, without the need for lawyers or courts. It’s been a great success.

Jessica, from Yorkshire, and her ex-partner underwent mediation after ending their relationship of more than 20 years, to agree a plan for childcare and financial arrangements.

The mother-of-two said:

We tried hard to be amicable, we didn’t want the children seeing us argue. But when emotions are high it’s hard for both people to have their say without it spiralling into arguments, and we’d got to a point where we just couldn’t do it on our own.

The mediator was an absolute lifeline, she really helped us to keep calm. Having somebody impartial, who neither of us knew, and who understands how it all works meant we got things sorted really quickly.

Jessica also qualified for legal aid, so between that and the voucher, received four fully funded sessions of mediation, and their plan continues to be successful six months on.

Traditional courtroom battles usually take nearly a year to reach a resolution. On average families using mediators only need two mediation sessions to reach an agreement, lasting a total of three hours. The sessions are flexible and arranged when it’s convenient for the whole family, providing a better solution than fixed court dates.

Anna Vollans added:

The financial value of mediation must not be underestimated. One man who came to us was quoted between £20,000 and £40,000 by a solicitor to sort out child and financial arrangements through court.

He was able to reach a resolution within five mediation sessions, costing him less than a thousand pounds after being subsidised by the voucher.

It is shocking to me how few people know about this scheme, often even within the sector. So many people believe court is the only option, and sometimes that is the best way to go, but I would really stress that in almost all cases, as long as it’s safe, it’s worth trying mediation first.

It can be hard but experienced mediators are there to make the process easy and less confrontational.

Research has shown that when children are exposed to intense and poorly resolved parental conflict it can have a devastating impact on their wellbeing.

Jessica said:

I wouldn’t have wanted to drag my children through the courts, I just think it would be horrendous. The thought of them being put in a position where they have to choose between parents is awful.

The trauma can cause children to internalise their problems and become withdrawn, anxious and depressed. This can lead to anti-social and aggressive behavioural issues, reduced academic performance, poor social skills as well as physical health problems, such as reduced growth, headaches and abdominal stress.

To combat this the government making it easier for mediators to apply for advanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks, to increase child-inclusive mediation. There are currently over 350 specialist child-inclusive trained mediators across England and Wales.

Anna said:

We’re doing much more child-inclusive mediation now and that is paramount. It’s the most rewarding part of my job, enabling young people to have a voice. Understandably parents are often nervous about involving children, but actually children often have really helpful and insightful things to say and often their concerns, when aired within a mediation setting, are easily solvable.

Earlier this year the government announced its response to the Private Family Law Early Resolution Consultation. This put forward a package of measures to reform the family courts and help families resolve disputes as swiftly and easily as possible. In the Spring Budget, the Chancellor announced an additional £55 million to support separating parents. This includes £12 million funding to deliver a new pilot to offer funded early legal advice to families to agree child arrangements and further funding for a new online information and support service.

Notes to editors

  • John Taylor, Chair of the Family Mediation Council said: “It’s important to include young people when making decisions which will affect their lives. Child-inclusive mediation allows young people to have their say with an independent FMC-accredited Mediator, who will ensure the child’s thoughts can then form part of the process through which future parenting agreements are made.”

  • How does the voucher scheme work in practice?
    • A separating family attends a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) for a mediator to assess the issues which need to be resolved
    • They will check if you are eligible for a voucher: if the dispute or application is regarding a child, or for financial matters where you are also involved in a dispute/application relating to a child
    • Your mediator will apply for the voucher funding and it will be paid directly to them once all mediation sessions are concluded
    • Mediation sessions start with each individual from the separating couple speaking privately to the mediator, followed by a meeting with both parties and the mediator.
    • If child-inclusive mediation is used, this will follow, and then feedback provided to the parents.
    • Families can continue with more meditation sessions and also retain the right to still go to court if necessary, or apply to the court for an order to make their mediation agreement enforceable.
  • Following consultation on mandatory mediation and concerns proposed safeguards to protect domestic abuse victims may not go far enough the government will not change the law to mandate mediation for separating couples.  
  • The plans will apply to England and Wales. The proposals regarding parenting programmes may touch on competence devolved to Wales as these programmes are delivered in Wales by the Welsh children and advisory court support service (Cafcass Cymru), which is a devolved matter.
  • For more information on the impact parental conflict can have on young people and their life chances: What works to enhance interparental relationships and improve outcomes for children? - Early Intervention Foundation (eif.org.uk)
  • For more information and research on the number of private law cases that go to court: Uncovering private family law: Who’s coming to court in England? (nuffieldfjo.org.uk)
  • 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. For more information on mediation and how it works visit: Home - Family Mediation Council
Channel website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ministry-of-justice

Original article link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/thousands-of-families-spared-from-damaging-courtroom-conflict

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