A new government mediation voucher scheme has been extended to help separating parents resolve disputes without taking them through the courts and is set to help many more families deal with the difficult issues that separation and divorce can create.
Earlier in 2021, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) launched the mediation voucher scheme, which offers a contribution of up to £500 towards the costs of family mediation (in eligible cases). The idea of the scheme is to support couples who are finding it difficult to agree on issues such as what happens to their children, without the considerable expense and stress of court proceedings. A mediator helps separating couples to work through their disagreements to find solutions, and then explains how to create a legally binding agreement if necessary. Normally, mediation is charged for unless one of the parties has access to legal aid.
Mediation a must
When an application for a court order is made in relation to many types of family law dispute, the parties currently have to prove to the court that family mediation has been considered first, by having attended a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (known as a MIAM), unless they are exempt.
Since the scheme was introduced in March 2021, many people have used the vouchers – around 130 vouchers are currently being used every week. Encouragingly, the data coming through from the Family Mediation Council (FMC) also indicates that mediation has been helpful to most families; around three-quarters of participants report that mediation accessed through the scheme has helped them to reach full or partial agreement on their dispute.
Ministers have now announced a further £800,000 for the scheme, on top of the initial £1 million investment, which could help another 2000 families.
Courts Minister, Lord Wolfson QC said:
“This additional funding will allow even more families to access these services, while helping to lessen the pressure on our family courts as we build back better from the pandemic. Mediation is often a quicker and cheaper way of resolving disputes, which can spare families the stress 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”
FMC accredited mediator, Jane Kerr said that the mediation vouchers had been invaluable, quoting two cases in which a successful conclusion had been achieved with ‘positive progress and outcomes’ for their children. She said,
“These were clear examples of families who were in crisis, amid messy separations and who left mediation on a firmer footing with regards to their co-parenting relationship and having worked out practical arrangements.”
The scheme is for families looking for help in resolving private law or financial matters relating to children – for example, child arrangement orders or financial disputes around a child’s upbringing. If a case is eligible for vouchers, the mediator claims the contributions directly from the Government.
Are you eligible for the mediation voucher scheme?
When you attend your MIAM, a trained mediator will assess the issues you need to resolve to determine whether they are suitable for mediation and meet the eligibility requirements.
Not all cases are eligible – the scheme covers:
- a dispute/application regarding a child
- a dispute/application regarding family financial matters where you are also involved in a dispute/application relating to a child
Mediation is also only an option in cases where both people agree to take part in it, so you and the other person will both need to agree to mediate. For more advice on mediation and family law in general, contact Vanessa at Gillbanks Law.