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Compulsory mediation proposed for ‘low level’ family disputes

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(23 March 2023)

Mediation could become compulsory for separating parents under plans unveiled by the government today to keep more family disputes away from court.

The Ministry of Justice proposes to make mediation compulsory for all ‘suitable low-level’ family court cases. Cases involving allegations or a history of domestic abuse would be excluded.

The cost of mediation in relation to child arrangement cases will be fully funded. The department will seek views on whether finance remedy cases, such as divorce, should be funded under legal aid thresholds.

The ministry also proposes giving judges the power to order parents to make a reasonable attempt to mediate. Financial penalties could be imposed on parents deemed to be acting unreasonably and harming a child’s wellbeing by prolonging court proceedings.

The family mediation voucher scheme, set up in 2021, will be extended until April 2025.

By making mediation compulsory, the ministry estimates up to 19,000 separating families resolve their issues away from court.

Justice secretary Dominic Raab said: ‘When parents drag out their separation through lengthy and combative courtroom battles it impacts on their children’s school work, mental health and quality of life. Our plans will divert thousands of time-consuming family disputes away from the courts – to protect children and ensure the most urgent cases involving domestic abuse survivors are heard by a court as quickly as possible.’

The consultation, which opens today, will close on 15 June.

Family mediation was the government’s flagship solution to the removal of legal aid for most private family law matters in 2013. However, referrals nosedived. Family mediation starts currently sit at around half of pre-LASPO levels.

Raab signalled his desire to see more civil disputes resolved away from court when he first became lord chancellor. Last week MoJ officials appeared to confirm that compulsory mediation for claims valued under £10,000 was on the cards.

Juliet Harvey, chair of family law group Resolution, welcomed anything that can help families avoid court where it is possible, safe and appropriate for them to do so. ‘Mediation will help many to do this and can be a very effective method of resolving disputes. But it is not right for everyone, and works best when it is done voluntarily,’ she added.

‘Forcing parents to choose a route that may not be suitable for them is not the answer. It may leave them without a lasting solution and could mean they end up needing more help and taking up more court time further down the line.’

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)