In April 2021, the government announced that it would be offering vouchers of up to £500 per family to help pay for family mediation. This was seen as a positive move, as it aimed to make the process of mediation more affordable for families who may be struggling with the financial costs of separation or divorce.
See my blog here for more details on the initiative that was rolled out originally by the government in response to Covid-19 to support recovery in the family court and to encourage more people to consider mediation as a means of resolving their disputes, where appropriate.
The vouchers can be used to pay for substantive joint mediation sessions where there are child arrangement issues to sort out. The aim is to help more families reach agreement outside of court, which is not only more cost-effective but can also be less stressful for all involved.
The government voucher scheme was extended last April and has been extended again this March until April 2025 under proposed family mediation reforms, which means that more families can access this support. However, there has been some debate about whether the government should go further and make mediation mandatory for all separating couples.
The idea of mandatory mediation has been proposed by some experts to reduce the number of cases going through the courts, which can be costly and time-consuming. In England & Wales, attendance at an initial separate assessment meeting known as a ‘MIAM’ – Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting is already required as a pre-requisite before court proceedings can be initiated (unless an exemption applies), but it is not mandatory for couples to mediate. This means that anyone can choose to bypass mediation even when the mediator has assessed the case as 'safe and suitable' for mediation, which can lead to longer legal battles and more stress for everyone involved.
Proponents of mandatory mediation argue that it would be a more efficient way of resolving disputes and would help to reduce the burden on the court system. It would also help to ensure that all couples have the opportunity to explore the benefits of mediation, which can be particularly effective in cases where there are children involved.
However, there are also some concerns about mandatory mediation that I share. In my view, family mediation can only work if you have two willing participants who genuinely wish to mediate and are voluntarily willing to give mediation a go and keep an open mind. Some experts worry that it could be seen as an infringement on individuals’ rights to make their own decisions about their personal lives. There are also concerns that mandatory mediation could put some people in danger, particularly in cases where there is a history of domestic abuse.
It’s worth noting that in many other countries, mandatory mediation is already in place. In Italy, for example, couples must attend a mediation session before they can file for divorce. In the Netherlands, mediation is mandatory for all child-related disputes.
Despite the potential benefits of mandatory mediation, it’s important to consider the individual circumstances of each case. For some couples, mediation may not be appropriate or effective, and it’s important that they have the option to choose a different route to resolve their issues. It’s also important to ensure that any mandatory mediation programme is designed with the safety of vulnerable individuals in mind.
Overall, the recent government initiative to extend the family mediation voucher scheme is a positive step towards making the process of separation and divorce less stressful and more affordable for families. While the idea of mandatory mediation is still being debated, it’s clear that there are potential benefits to this approach, as long as it is implemented in a way that protects the rights and safety of all involved. The combination of these initiatives, along with the introduction of no-fault divorce last April, has helped to create a more efficient and compassionate system for families going through separation and divorce in England & Wales.
If you are curious about how Holistic Family Mediation & Coaching can help support you and your family through separation and/or divorce, you may wish to consider our FAQs page and/or book in a Free Discovery Call via our services page.
We will then get in touch with your ex-partner (unless requested to hold off any communication at this stage) to encourage them to engage in the process highlighting the benefits of family mediation - low cost, staying in control and to have a quicker resolution compared to court based proceedings.