One of the UK’s leading judges has urged divorcing couples to use the £500 voucher that enables them to access mediation services to settle difficult disagreements.
Sir Geoffrey Vos, Master of the Rolls, made the suggestion in a complicated case involving a couple who had separated in 2017.
The father had regular unsupervised contact with the three children until 2018, when the eldest refused to see him. In December 2019, the father complained of parental alienation but declined to take part in any mediation process that could have helped settle differences quickly and amicably.
Instead of speeding up proceedings, the decision to decline mediation led to complex legal issues arising that made the case last much longer and go all the way to the Court of Appeal.
In giving judgment, Sir Geoffrey Vos, said: “We draw attention to the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme. We would urge all parties to private law proceedings to make use of this valuable resource.
“This case provides an example of a situation in which mediation would have been particularly appropriate, because there was at the start, no issue between the parents as to whether unsupervised contact was appropriate.”
The scheme provides a £500 voucher for mediation services with the aim of finding amicable solutions to disagreements. It seeks to spare eligible families the trauma of going through often lengthy and costly courtroom battles, as in this case, which can have a damaging impact on children.
Hundreds of people have already accessed this vital support with around 130 vouchers currently being used every week. Data from the Family Mediation Council (FMC), which runs the programme, has shown that up to three-quarters of participants have been helped to reach full or partial agreement on their dispute.
Information about the scheme and how it works is provided to parties at their Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM), which all those involved in family cases are required to attend, unless they have a valid exemption.
On attendance of a MIAM, a trained mediator will assess the issues which you seek to resolve to see if they are suitable for mediation and meet the eligibility requirements for the voucher scheme.
Not all cases are eligible under the scheme. The case types specified below are eligible for a mediation voucher:
- a dispute/application regarding a child
- a dispute/application regarding family financial matters where you are also involved in a dispute/application relating to a child.
It is important to remember that mediation is only an option when both people agree to take part in it, so you and the other person will need to agree to mediate.
Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.