What the new Family Mediation Voucher Scheme means for you
In an attempt to battle the ever-rising number of cases before the family court, the Government is introducing a one million pounds mediation scheme to help separating parents avoid stressful court cases.
2000 families will be given £500 in total to use towards the costs of mediation. At present, if a mediation referral is made, either one party or both parties contribute to the fees, or there may be an exemption if certain criteria is met or legal aid applies.
The statistics provided by the government indicate that more than 70% of couples who use mediation resolved their issues outside of court.
Could mediation really help me?
The information provided to date suggests there is an eligibility element to accessing the scheme in the first place, but if you do happen to obtain a voucher what can you expect from mediation?
What is mediation?
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution which can help you achieve the resolution of many issues on which the court would otherwise decide. There are of course cases where mediation is not suitable – cases concerning domestic abuse or child protection issues for example – and the mediator will confirm this from the beginning.
Even with the pandemic, mediation is open and still accessible to hundreds of families up and down the UK and this is being achieved with remote appointments (via Zoom or Skype). This might even seek to reduce any anxiety you have of being in the same room as your ex or former partner.
A trained mediator will allow both parties to speak and will look to see what matters can be agreed upon. It is a prerequisite to court that the parties attend mediation. The court places emphasis on mediation from the beginning and rightly so because the court is a last resort and if it can be avoided, it should.
Why it works
It is far better to reach an agreement between yourselves than have a court impose an order upon you. Mediation is effective in helping you negotiate an agreement regarding child arrangements or a division of property.
It is a positive if you and the other party who takes up this scheme, as it implies that you both have a joint goal of resolving your dispute. If you do reach an agreement during mediation you can then take legal advice on this and make sure that any agreement is in your best interest.
Where it does not work
It is of course not suitable for those who simply will not engage in negotiations, or are unwilling to be flexible or to compromise, as this will be a counterproductive exercise.
A mediator also has no power to force you or the other party into an agreement and anything discussed in mediation is “without prejudice”, meaning you cannot rely on this in court proceedings.
What is being proposed?
What is being proposed under the Government’s mediation scheme is that once the parties have attended mediation and reached an agreement, it is then considered by a court before making it into a legal binding and enforceable court order.
It remains to be seen how this will work in practice, as mediators are precluded from giving legal advice and as such, the usual practice is that, if an agreement is reached, your solicitor would then advise you on the agreement before this is ratified by court. Thus, there is a question mark over when and at what stage you will engage your solicitor during the scheme, before the matter is considered by a court and what happens once you are in court proceedings.
We advise those who do take up the scheme to you stay in touch with their solicitor during the mediation process, and to ask for advice as matters progress.