The government has announced its long-expected plan to make mediation compulsory in all suitable family court cases.
Launching a consultation on the plan the Ministry of Justice said that the proposals “will see mediation become mandatory in all suitable low-level family court cases excluding those which include allegations or a history of domestic violence.”
The idea behind the plan is twofold: to protect couples and children from the “damaging impact of bitter courtroom battles”, and to ease pressures on the family courts, ensuring that the justice system can “focus on the families it most needs to protect.”
Announcing the plans Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Dominic Raab MP 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 plans will include both children disputes and disputes over financial arrangements on divorce.
And if couples do not make a reasonable attempt to mediate and the case goes to court the court could impose financial penalties.
The proposals have not met with universal approval.
The Law Society, the professional body for solicitors in England and Wales, has said that early legal advice is the best solution for separating couples, not mediation. It therefore urges the government to provide funding for such advice, for those who cannot afford a lawyer.
And Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has pointed out that mediation is not right for everyone. Resolution’s Chair, Juliet Harvey, said that mediation “works best when it is done voluntarily – forcing parents to choose a route that may not be suitable for them is not the answer.”
Lastly, the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, warned of the dangers of pushing women who have experienced abuse down the mediation route, and said that they “urgently need clarity on how the Ministry of Justice will ensure that all domestic abuse survivors will be kept safe”.
The consultation seeks views on the plan, particularly 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 consultation closes on the 15th of June, and can be found here.
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