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Are family mediation and financial penalties the answer for our “clogged up” family courts?

Family mediation is again in the headlines.  Justice secretary Dominic Raab is being forced to find a way to reduce the burden on our over-stretched family courts.  According to the newspapers he believes mediation and financial penalties are the answer for our clogged up family courts.

While Mr Raab has mooted a plan to fine parents who bring vexatious claims to the family courts, it is his comments regarding making family mediation the default process for divorce cases that has caught the attention of many.

Mr Raab feels insisting families begin divorce proceedings with mediation would not only spare children the trauma of having to watch their parents fight in court but also free up judges to deal with the most serious cases, particularly those involving domestic violence.

This is not the first time the question of parents bringing unnecessary and confrontational claims to the courts has been brought up recently.

His Honour Judge Wildblood QC has also been very vocal in his views.  He has said these types of claims are in nobody’s best interest and are highly contributory to the “clogging up” of the family courts we are currently having to endure.

He was very clear that he believes anyone found to be wasting court time should be reprimanded and penalised.

Following a recent judgment, the judge provided a raft of examples of the types of requests being made.  These included stipulating which junction on the M4 a child should be handed over at and how to arrange contact on a Sunday afternoon.

Judge Wildblood also said his comments have the backing of all the judges and magistrates who sit in the family court in the Bristol area before urging lawyers to steer their clients away from court unless it’s absolutely necessary.

What is mediation?

Mediation provides an alternative route to divorce, avoiding court and instead focussing on working collaboratively to find the best way to resolve any issues involving your finances, property, and/or children.

There are many reasons why couples prefer mediation to more traditional family law solutions including:

  • Mediation keeps channels of communication open
  • Mediation provides a neutral environment which can reduce tension and hostility
  • Mediation will help you make more informed decisions based upon your personal circumstances
  • Mediation can help couples avoid costly legal battles
  • Mediation shows your children you can still work together to resolve the most important issues

Will mediation be made mandatory?

The government has already shown they are prepared to invest in encouraging families to turn to mediation first.

In March 2021 they launched a landmark mediation voucher scheme designed to help more separating couples settle their divorce outside court by offering them a £500 voucher to use for mediation services.

However, if the government is genuinely serious about reducing the backlog at the family court, it could well be time to reopen the long running conversation about making mediation mandatory.

While the voucher scheme has definitely made mediation more visible and more accessible, if it is going to have the desired effect on our overworked family courts, maybe it is time to finally make mediation mandatory.  Although if it was to be made mandatory, the voluntary aspect of family mediation would have to remain so participants have the option to leave the process should they feel it is not delivering what it should.

How do you begin a family mediation?

The first step is to arrange a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM).  If you and your partner decide you would like to mediate and we agree mediation is a suitable option, we’ll arrange a date for your first joint meeting.

During these meetings you will have your opportunity to discuss all the relevant issues and put your point of view forward under the supervision of a trained and impartial mediator who will make sure both parties’ opinions are heard.

As the conversations develop, your mediator will begin together all the relevant information.  This will help you make more informed decisions as to what needs to happen next.

At the conclusion of the process (this usually involved between 3 and 6 sessions) your mediator will produce a series of documents that set out the decisions you made during the mediation and include a Financial Statement summarising your final financial disclosure.

If you would like to find out more about family mediation, there is much more information on our website.

Or, if you would like to speak to one of our trained and accredited mediators, you can email Bernadette Hoy or Aisling Collins to set up a call so that they can answer any additional questions you may have about Family Mediation.