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Mediation to become mandatory?

On 23rd March 2023, the UK government unveiled plans to introduce mandatory mediation for separating or divorcing couples in an effort to reform the family justice system.

The proposal aims to make mediation a requirement in all appropriate family court cases to help families avoid court and reduce backlogs, allowing the family courts to focus on the cases that require their protection the most.The proposed reform aims to divert more family disputes away from the overburdened and backlogged family courts, making mediation mandatory in all suitable low-level family court cases except those involving allegations or a history of domestic violence or concerns of child safeguarding.

The reform aims to achieve multiple objectives, including lowering demand within the family court system, freeing up resources to ensure that urgent cases are heard more quickly, and reducing backlogs.

The reform also aims to protect children from the negative consequences of seeing their parents resolve family law disputes in court, which is frequently fraught with conflict. The government’s existing Family Mediation Voucher Scheme will be extended until April 2025 backed by an additional £15 million in funding, providing separating couples with vouchers worth up to £500 to help them solve disputes through mediation.

So far, the scheme has supported over 15,300 families. Mediation is a process in which couples work together to resolve their differences, and it is currently a voluntary alternative dispute resolution (ADR) option to assist families with overcoming disagreements.

Mediation typically minimises lengthy and acrimonious conflict, helping couples maintain a constructive relationship, which is beneficial for both separated parents and their children.

However, the proposed mediation reforms have raised some concerns. The definition of ‘low-level cases’ and the process by which they will be assessed are unclear. There are also concerns that people will make false allegations against their partners to avoid mediation altogether. Additionally, in cases where abuse or coercive control are unknown factors, victim-survivors may be coerced into participating, thereby empowering their abuser.

The proposals are subject to a government consultation that will run for 12 weeks, closing on 15 June 2023.

The UK government has made clear that it is committed to ensuring that the reform will benefit separating couples and their children, while also reducing the burden on the family court system. The Law Society president, Lubna Shuja has warned 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. Women’s Aid has called for clarity on how the Ministry of Justice will ensure all domestic abuse survivors will be kept safe and allegations will be properly investigated.

In conclusion, the UK government’s proposed reforms to the family justice system aim to divert more family disputes away from the courts, reduce backlogs, and protect children from the negative consequences of seeing their parents resolve family law disputes in court. However, there are concerns about the clarity of the reforms and the potential for false allegations or coercion. The proposals are currently open for consultation, and the government has committed to ensuring that the reforms benefit separating couples and their children while reducing the burden on the family court system.

For further information or assistance with mediation, please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our team members on 01254 461 461 or alternatively you can contact us via email on info@harislaw.co.uk.

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