What is mediation?
Family mediation is just one of the methods that a couple can use when trying to reach an agreement on the arrangements for child contact/a financial settlement. In mediation, a trained independent mediator, who will act as a neutral third party, will help you and your partner work through your differences and find solutions that work for the both of you so that you can reach an agreement through communication with one another, rather than through the involvement of a Judge.
Will an agreement reached with a mediator be legally binding?
In mediation, once an agreement is reached, your mediator may draw up a document called a ‘mediation agreement’. This is not a legally binding document in itself, but can become one if it is made into a ‘consent order’. If you bring your mediation agreement to a solicitor like ourselves, we will be able to create a consent order for you, based on the terms you have agreed in mediation. This document can then be lodged with the court, with a small court fee, to make it into a binding court order.
Mediation is therefore a common first step used by couples before they instruct us.
You may have seen on the News today that the Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab has proposed a new rule that would make it mandatory for separating couples to try mediation to settle their child custody and financial disputes, only seeking the court’s intervention as a last resort.
Dominic Raab has 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 proposals are currently subject to a Government consultation which will last for 12 weeks from today, ending on 15 June 2023. If incorporated, the rule will be applicable in all of England and Wales.
Within the proposals, there is also a plan that Judges in the family courts will be given a new power so that they can order couples to make a reasonable attempt to mediate, failing which, there may be possible financial penalties. This will be the consequence for those who act unreasonably and harm a child’s wellbeing by prolonging court proceedings.
It is worth noting, however, that mandatory mediation and cost orders on families to make a reasonable attempt to mediate will only apply in appropriate cases such as those without domestic abuse allegations, urgency, or certain child protection circumstances.
In the meantime, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced that the Government’s family mediation voucher scheme will be extended until April 2025. For those who are unaware of this scheme, this provides separating couples with a financial contribution of up to £500 towards the costs of mediation, if eligible. The department has stated it has helped 15,300 families this way and aims to help a further 19,000 families with the extension of the voucher scheme.
If you are seeking advice on child arrangements or financial settlement or have any questions in relation to this article, please get in touch with a member of our team and we’d be very happy to assist you.