Families to benefit from voucher scheme extension

Lawyers in Bath have welcomed the extension of a government scheme which gives separating couples up to £500 worth of vouchers to use on mediation.

The Family Mediation Voucher Scheme will now run until April 2025 backed by an additional £15 million in funding. Mediation is a process which sees couples work through their differences with a trained and accredited mediator to reach agreements such as how to split assets or how children share their time between their parents (known as child custody or child contact), rather than have a judge decide for them.

So far over 15,300 families have used the vouchers to help solve disputes with Caroline Fell and Rebecca Eels from Stone King’s Family & Mediation Team saying they see the results of mediation in their practice.

Both Caroline and Rebecca are mediators as well as lawyers, and also qualified child-inclusive mediators.

“This really is good news for separating families and their children,” said Caroline.

“We all know that separation and divorce are really emotional and stressful for all concerned and, unfortunately, children often get caught up in the tension.

“But now, by supporting parents to use mediation to solve their differences, we should see quicker and less fraught resolution and happier adults and children as a result.”

Furthermore, under government plans, it is proposed for mediation to become mandatory in all suitable cases with the exception of those which include allegations or a history of domestic violence. This will mean separating couples have to attempt to agree arrangements for their children and finances through a qualified mediator with court action being a last resort. The Ministry of Justice says this could help up to 19,000 separating families resolve their issues in a less antagonistic way, as well as reducing backlogs and easing pressures on the family courts. Chair of the Family Mediation Council, John Taylor, said: “Family mediation can play a really positive role in producing better outcomes for separating families, and in reducing the burden on courts. This consultation shows that Ministers recognise its value in helping separating couples make parenting and financial arrangements without the stress and delays involved in going to court.

“It builds on the government’s successful £500 voucher scheme, which is encouraging separating couples to consider family mediation to resolve their disputes. The next few weeks will help shine further light on a process that has the potential to help many thousands more shape the futures of all their family members.”

Chief Executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), Jacky Tiotto, said: “Cafcass strongly welcomes the focus on supporting more parents to agree how they will care for their children and spend time together without the need to make an application to the family court when they are separating.

“We work with in excess of 145,000 children every year and we see the harm to which children are exposed in long adversarial court proceedings.

“Programmes that encourage parents to consider together what is safe and in the best interests of their children help to keep the focus on what children want and need as they grow up.”

The proposals are now subject to a government consultation which will run for 12 weeks from March 23, closing on 15 June 2023.