MPs question proposal to require separating families to mediate before going to court
The cross-party Justice Committee is looking into a government proposal that will require families seeking help with arrangements to separate to seek mediation before taking their case to court.
The government says that encouraging mediation would protect children from the adverse effects of long court cases. It argues that the benefits of encouraging families to mediate can be seen through the success of its 2021 'Mediation Voucher Scheme', where eligible families were given a £500 voucher towards the cost of mediation.
In 2021 there were 2.3m separated families in England and Wales and 3.6m children in those families. Every year 55,000 cases are submitted to the family court regarding the custody of children - these are known as ‘child arrangement orders’. It is currently taking an average of about ten and a half months for these cases to be completed.
The background to these large numbers of people affected by separation - and seeking help in making arrangements for it - include: long backlogs in cases coming to court; the high cost to parents of employing lawyers to argue their cases; and an adversarial legal system that concentrates on the arguments made by parents – sometimes at a cost to the children involved.
The government says that, partly because of these factors, it is considering requiring early mediation before cases come to court – except where domestic abuse or child protection issues are involved. The government has argued that if less complex cases were dealt with through mediation, the courts could better deal with the more complex disputes. The Committee’s session aims to test these arguments by airing the issues with practitioners in family law and other experts.