“No surprise” Government scraps plans to force separating couples to mediate

Leading family and children law firm Mills & Reeve has welcomed today’s (Friday 26 January) announcement by the Government to row back on what was dubbed a “major shake-up of the family justice system”

One of the key strands of the Government’s plans, that has been formally axed today, was to make it compulsory for separating couples to actively participate in mediation to sort out their financial disputes or disagreements about arrangements for their children before they would be allowed to make a court application.

Tim Whitney, Mills & Reeve family partner and mediator, said: “While it’s only right the Government gives attention to helping couples separate in a less confrontational and more constructive way, it’s no surprise they’ve decided to reconsider plans to force couples to mediate.

“Mediation helps – and will continue to help – many families who choose to use it but it’s not the right process for every family. It seems that the success of the Government’s Family Mediation Voucher Scheme – where a couple can claim a £500 contribution from the Government to help pay the costs of using a mediator to resolve disputes about the arrangements for their children – was at the heart of the Government’s decision to focus on mediation in their consultation.”

We recently commissioned a survey of adults who are currently married or in a civil partnership. Of over 800 people who were asked, 47% didn’t think that mediation should be compulsory. However, of those who were parents (more than 600 of those interviewed) a resounding 60% thought child inclusive mediation would be useful or very useful in helping to sort out arrangements for their children.

Meanwhile, voluntary written agreements covering practical issues that parents face when they separate and which mediators can help facilitate, were considered useful or very useful by 72% of parents.

Alison Bull, partner and family mediator at Mills & Reeve, added: “People clearly want to have the choice to sort out arrangements in the best way for their family and not to be shoe-horned into a one-size fits all process. The Government’s plan failed to properly appreciate that it is the voluntary nature of mediation – and the willingness of a couple to engage with a voluntary process – that makes it so effective and successful. 

“Family separations and relationship breakdowns are never easy. Mediation is just one of a range of processes that a couple can use to deal with their separation that avoids the need for expensive and stressful court battles. Collaborative law, arbitration, early neutral evaluations, private judges, round table negotiations and most recently one lawyer two client services are some of the alternatives firms are able to offer. 

“Providing families with information and legal advice about these different options at the outset means they can make an informed choice; and anecdotal evidence shows that those couples who have had that are more likely not only to opt for an alternative to court but are more likely to make a success of it.”

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