Posted by Gosia Prout on 19th February 2024
Early resolution of family law arrangements a welcome step

Recently, the United Kingdom took a significant step towards promoting mediation by initiating a public consultation aimed at enhancing the mediation process and its accessibility across various sectors including family law. Our Divorce lawyer Gosia Prout highlights these changes.

Family separation is rarely straightforward and often stressful especially when children are involved. Many families struggle to agree on next steps for their children, and while most families are able to resolve their issues between themselves without the need to go to court, many still end up in conflict.

“Supporting earlier resolution of private family law arrangements: Government response” which is a government’s response to the above-mentioned consultation was published on 26th January 2024 and is a welcomed approach. The response outlines a number of initiatives designed to provide greater access to legal advice at an earlier stage of a dispute. Proposals to bolster the role of mediators, introduce a new early advice pilot service and extend the current pathfinder pilot nationally are included. The consultation gathered insights from legal professionals, businesses, and individuals, on how mediation can be better utilised and integrated into dispute resolution frameworks.

In essence, separating families will in the future benefit from early legal advice, greater use of mediation, and the continued rollout of an innovative pilot which better supports domestic abuse victims and children.

With the launch of a legal advice pilot later this year, the government hopes that the families will be able to agree child arrangements quicker through an improved access to a variety of options, such as mediation.

Providing a better understanding of those options and especially of a role of a mediator could lead to thousands of children being spared the long-term harm of lengthy and often acrimonious courtroom proceedings.

Mediators can help avoid certain contentious issues by working with both parties together or separately to find a solution that works for them, rather than have a solution imposed on them by a judge. Ensuring high standards within the mediation process is essential for building trust and confidence among the users and the government’s consultation sought input on how to enhance the quality and consistency of mediation services, including the accreditation of mediators and the development of best practices. Find out more about how the Family Law Company can help with mediation.

Finally, there was a sigh of relief among the family lawyers that the government abandoned the idea of mandatory mediation. Mediation can have a very positive impact on the separation proceedings but there are situations when it is simply not appropriate for the parties to enter into mediation. The possible danger of mandatory mediation was widely recognised among family law practitioners, specifically in respect of victims of domestic abuse and could potentially prolong contact between the victim and the abuser. It was therefore decided that the law to mandate mediation for separating couples will not be changed.

In those cases, going to court will be the right way forward and therefore, following a successful pilot in North Wales and Dorset, aimed at reducing conflict, this will be expanded to the family courts in Birmingham and South East Wales, ahead of a national roll out. There should also be an improved sharing between agencies like the police and local authorities, in order to ensure that the victims will not have to relive the traumatic experience and retell the same story.

Overall these reforms are about helping those who need it the most. At the Family Law Company we have always focussed on putting children at the centre of our work.  By elevating the voice of the child and reducing strife in a court room, we will give our children the best chance of growing up to becoming well-adjusted adults. By harnessing the power of the mediation process, separating couples across the UK can find a way forward without the need of the Family Court.

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