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More than 27,000 separating families have used the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme

Date:10 MAY 2024
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The Family Mediation Voucher Scheme provides funding to help families navigate the complexities of separation, giving them the opportunity to settle issues around childcare and finances outside of court.

Separating couples work with experts to reach agreements with less conflict and greater emphasis on the voices of children. Early analysis from the first 7,200 families to use the scheme, shows more than two-thirds reached agreement without the need to go to court.

Through the voucher scheme, families can access a contribution of up to £500 towards their mediation, greater than the average claimed voucher cost of £424.

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk KC, said: "Separation can be incredibly painful, but we know it is made more traumatic with toxic and protracted courtroom battles, which can cause lasting damage to children. This is why we’re determined to take the temperature down. We’ve already delivered on no-fault divorces, and it’s really positive to see the success of our voucher scheme. I hope more will feel able to take up this offer."

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Anna Vollans, chair of the Family Mediators Association, has noticed a huge uplift in the number of separation proceedings being resolved through mediation since the scheme launched in 2021.

A mediator with more than 10 years’ experience, she said: "The vouchers are incredibly positive, because they allow people to try mediation who would never have considered it before which is game-changing. Most are surprised to discover they can reach a resolution in just a few sessions, and can leave with clear parenting and financial plans and the confidence to make it work, without the need for lawyers or courts. It’s been a great success."

Jessica, from Yorkshire, and her ex-partner underwent mediation after ending their relationship of more than 20 years, to agree a plan for childcare and financial arrangements.

The mother-of-two said: "We tried hard to be amicable, we didn’t want the children seeing us argue. But when emotions are high it’s hard for both people to have their say without it spiralling into arguments, and we’d got to a point where we just couldn’t do it on our own. The mediator was an absolute lifeline, she really helped us to keep calm. Having somebody impartial, who neither of us knew, and who understands how it all works meant we got things sorted really quickly."

Jessica also qualified for legal aid, so between that and the voucher, received four fully funded sessions of mediation, and their plan continues to be successful six months on.

Traditional courtroom battles usually take nearly a year to reach a resolution. On average families using mediators only need two mediation sessions to reach an agreement, lasting a total of three hours. The sessions are flexible and arranged when it’s convenient for the whole family, providing a better solution than fixed court dates.

Anna Vollans added: "The financial value of mediation must not be underestimated. One man who came to us was quoted between £20,000 and £40,000 by a solicitor to sort out child and financial arrangements through court. He was able to reach a resolution within five mediation sessions, costing him less than a thousand pounds after being subsidised by the voucher. It is shocking to me how few people know about this scheme, often even within the sector. So many people believe court is the only option, and sometimes that is the best way to go, but I would really stress that in almost all cases, as long as it’s safe, it’s worth trying mediation first. It can be hard but experienced mediators are there to make the process easy and less confrontational."

Research has shown that when children are exposed to intense and poorly resolved parental conflict it can have a devastating impact on their wellbeing.

Jessica said: "I wouldn’t have wanted to drag my children through the courts, I just think it would be horrendous. The thought of them being put in a position where they have to choose between parents is awful. The trauma can cause children to internalise their problems and become withdrawn, anxious and depressed. This can lead to anti-social and aggressive behavioural issues, reduced academic performance, poor social skills as well as physical health problems, such as reduced growth, headaches and abdominal stress."

To combat this the government making it easier for mediators to apply for advanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks, to increase child-inclusive mediation. There are currently over 350 specialist child-inclusive trained mediators across England and Wales.

Anna said: "We’re doing much more child-inclusive mediation now and that is paramount. It’s the most rewarding part of my job, enabling young people to have a voice. Understandably parents are often nervous about involving children, but actually children often have really helpful and insightful things to say and often their concerns, when aired within a mediation setting, are easily solvable."