Mediation could become compulsory for separating parents under plans unveiled by the British Government to keep more family disputes away from court.
The Law Society Gazette of England and Wales says that the Ministry of Justice proposes to make mediation compulsory for all “suitable low-level” family-court cases.
Cases involving allegations, or a history of domestic abuse, would be excluded.
The cost of mediation in relation to child-arrangement cases would be fully funded.
According to the Gazette, the ministry will seek views on whether finance-remedy cases, such as divorce, should be funded under legal-aid thresholds.
The ministry also proposes giving judges the power to order parents to make a reasonable attempt to mediate.
Financial penalties could be imposed on parents deemed to be acting unreasonably, and harming a child’s wellbeing by prolonging court proceedings.
By making mediation compulsory, the ministry estimates that up to 19,000 separating families could resolve their issues away from court.
Justice secretary Dominic Raab (pictured) 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.”
‘Not right for everyone’
The consultation, which opens today (23 March), will close on 15 June.
The Gazette says that family mediation was the British Government’s flagship solution to the removal of legal aid for most private family-law matters in 2013.
It added, however, that family-mediation referrals had fallen by half since the change.
Juliet Harvey, chair of family law group Resolution, welcomed anything that could help families avoid court where it was possible, safe and appropriate for them to do so.
“Mediation will help many to do this, and can be a very effective method of resolving disputes. But it is not right for everyone, and works best when it is done voluntarily,” she told the Gazette.