On 23 March 2023, the government released a press release announcing their proposals to make mediation mandatory in thousands of suitable low-level family court cases.

They describe it as a “major shake-up to the family justice system”, whereby thousands of children could be protected from witnessing their parents embark upon lengthy family court proceedings. 

The proposals will be subject to a government consultation which will run for 12 weeks from 23 March 2023, closing on 15 June 2023, where it will be decided whether the government’s plans will come into effect. 

The new plans will mean separating couples must attempt to agree on their child and financial arrangements through a qualified mediator, with court action being taken as a last resort. 

The changes are expected to help up to 19,000 separated families resolve their issues away from court, reducing backlogs, easing pressure on the family courts, and ensuring the justice system can focus on the families it most needs to protect.

The reforms aim to:

  • Protect children from the damaging impact of bitter courtroom battles.
  • Provide further financial support to families as the voucher scheme extends.  

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Mediation is a process whereby a trained independent mediator will work with a separating couple to work out arrangements for their finances and children.

Mediation can help you put your child’s interest first and lets you stay in control regarding arrangements to be made rather than the decision being made by a judge in court.

Mediation also provides a cheaper and more cost-effective solution for families. 

Currently, if you wish to make an application to the court concerning children matters, you must show the court that you have considered family mediation by having attended a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (known as a MIAM) unless you are exempt.

A MIAM is a short meeting with a qualified mediator where you will be provided with information about mediation to resolve your issues. In the MIAM, the mediator will assess whether mediation is appropriate based on your individual circumstances. 


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Compulsory Mediation

Under the government’s new plans, they wish to make mediation compulsory.

Compulsory mediation aims to allow the family courts to better prioritise and provide better protection for the most serious cases where mediation is not an option, such as those cases involving domestic abuse and child safety.

They estimate that, as a result of compulsory mediation, 36,000 vulnerable families will benefit from faster hearings and quicker resolutions.

They believe that increased use of mediation will also lead to more agreeable resolutions for families.

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Comments from the Government

In the press release, Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor, and Secretary of State for Justice Dominic Raab MP 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”

Dominic Raab MP hopes that compulsory mediation will improve the well-being of those children involved in court proceedings and reduce the impact that lengthy court proceedings have on children. 

The changes may also introduce a new power to judges to order parents to make a reasonable attempt at mediation with possible financial penalties if they act unreasonably and harm a child’s well-being by prolonging court proceedings. 

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The Family Mediation Voucher Scheme

The Family Mediation Voucher Scheme was introduced on 26 March 2021.

The government introduced the scheme in response to Covid-19 to support recovery in the family courts and encourage families to use mediation to resolve their disputes.

It provides separating couples with a voucher worth up to £500 to help fund the cost of mediation.

The scheme has so far supported over 15,300 families.

The mediation voucher cannot be used for the cost of the MIAM and must be used towards mediation sessions.

During the MIAM, the mediator will assess the issues you seek to resolve to see if they are suitable for mediation and meet the eligibility requirements for the voucher scheme.

Under the new plans, the government plans to extend this scheme until April 2025, backed with an additional £15 million in funding.

Extending the funding takes the total package of support provided by the government through the scheme to £23.6 million.

In their press release, the government highlighted the benefits mediation could have on separating couples and their children, stating that on an analysis of the first 7,200 users of the scheme, 68% of participants reached a whole or partial agreement away from court.

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Co-Parenting Programmes

Currently, judges often refer families to co-parenting programmes during court proceedings.

The government’s plans would also introduce changes to extend the use of co-parenting programmes across the country by making them compulsory before the court.

Co-parenting programmes encourage parents to develop agreements without court intervention, ensuring that parents put their children’s needs first when separating.

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If you want to discuss options for mediation through separation, contact our expert family solicitors. Myerson's family team have experience with divorce, child arrangement disputes, and more.