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Will the MoJ’s new plans make family mediation mandatory?

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has just published a consultation on their plans to make family mediation mandatory.  If passed, this would require separating couples to actually try to work together to reach an agreed outcome using mediation rather than to make an immediate application to the family courts.

The MoJ’s plan is to make mediation mandatory in all “suitable” low-level family court cases excluding those that involve allegations of or a history of domestic violence.

Their aim is to give separating couples an opportunity to agree what will happen to their children and their finances using qualified mediator and thereby to make court proceedings a last resort. This will  reduce the flow of cases through the courts and so reduce the current backlogs and improve the service the courts are able to provide to those most in need of the assistance of the judiciary to deal with their disputes.

The proposals within the consultation include:

  • Requiring couples to try to mediate (with exceptions for domestic abuse allegations, urgency, or certain child protection circumstances).
  • Imposing cost penalties on those who refuse to try to mediate.
  • Making the equivalent funding of £500 per case now available under the voucher scheme permanent for child cases.
  • Seeking views on the funding of financial cases.
  • Requiring parents to attend a co-parenting programme before attending court.

The government feel this consultation offers an “excellent opportunity” for mediators to help shape the future for separating families and finally provide the impetus to move couples away from the stresses of the court room as they seek to find the best outcomes from their separation.

This consultation shows Ministers recognise that family mediation can help separating couples make parenting and financial arrangements without all the complications and costs involved in going to court.  After the announcement was made one Minister commented:

“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.”

Our own mediators – Aisling Collins and Bernadette Hoy – welcomed the news:

“It is hugely encouraging to see the Government’s desire to help a couple communicate and agree the best way forward for them and their children – not to mention providing a quicker and less expensive way to resolve their issues than going through the stress of a court battle – must be a good idea.”

However, while we do need to remember that this consultation is just the first step.  It is not an official announcement to make mediation mandatory in the UK, we trust it is the strongest signal yet that the UK government wants to promote the use of mediation as an alternative to going to court in family disputes.

If you would like to discuss how you can resolve your own separation using mediation, please contact Aisling Collins or Bernadette Hoy today.