Government announces new plans on compulsory mediation for separating couples
A consultation on the new proposals is now open for 12 weeks
The Ministry of Justice announced new plans on 23 March on mandatory mediation for divorcing couples, in order to protect children from lengthy family disputes in the courts and help reduce family court backlogs. The new proposals would see court action made the last resort as separating couples would be required to attempt to agree child custody and financial arrangements through a qualified mediator in all suitable low-level family cases.
The government has also launched a consultation on the new proposals, which closes on 15 June 2023, with feedback particularly encouraged from organisations representing separating families, family justice professionals, mediation service providers, other dispute resolution service providers and individuals who have lived experience of the family courts or mediation.
The government is of the opinion that making mediation compulsory will allow the family courts to better prioritise and provide protection in the most serious cases, such as those cases involving domestic abuse and child safety concerns. It is estimated that 36,000 vulnerable families per year will benefit from faster hearings as a result of the new plans.
The proposed reforms to the family justice system presented by the government could also include a new power for judges to order parents to make a reasonable attempt to mediate with possible financial penalties if they act unreasonably and harm a child’s wellbeing by prolonging court proceedings.
Criticising the new plans, Law Society President, Lubna Shuja, said “The best way to get couples into mediation is to provide them with early legal advice, but the government has not taken this on board. Mediation can be a vital tool for resolving many family disputes, but compulsory mediation in family cases is not a substitute for funded early advice, which can provide people with a reality-check and confidence that mediation is in their best interests. The risk is that compulsory mediation could force the wrong people into the process, at the wrong time and with the wrong attitude for it to be effective. They need to be ready to mediate and have a full understanding of what the process will involve.”
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.”