Mandatory mediation means increased protection from disputes for children

Lauren Soutar Solicitor
April 18, 2023

A Cheshire-based solicitor has welcomed government plans to transform family law by increasing the protection of children with the introduction of mandatory mediation.

The new proposals will mean that arbitration must take place for low-level cases before any court visit to prevent minors watching a potentially harmful dispute between their parents.

As a result of the suggested policy change, judges will hold the power to fine couples who refuse to engage in negotiations surrounding child custody and financial arrangements.

This follows on from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) launching a voucher scheme which provides up to £500 towards mediation costs for eligible situations, which exclude allegations, or a history, of domestic violence.

A public consultation on the scheme, which will apply in England and Wales, is now open to all.

Lauren Soutar, member of the family department at Warrington’s Watsons Solicitors, said: “As with so many family law issues, the needs of any children must be catered for, and the proposed plan would help reduce the possibility of undue stress.

“We represent and support many clients through the divorce process, and it’s vital that an agreement is reached without negatively impacting everyone involved.”

As of 4 January 2023, more than 13,500 families had used the system to try and resolve their disputes outside of court, with 69 per cent reporting that they had reached an agreement on some, or all, of their issues.

The scheme has now been extended until April 2025 with another £15million of funding made available.

Lauren, who is a trustee for Warrington Youth Zone, continued: “The numbers speak for themselves. The decision to help fund mediation and ease the strain on the courts, has clearly been a wise one and hopefully more families see it as an ideal solution to solving any issues.”

The pressure on courts is evident with more than 56,000 applications for child arrangements made in 2021 and sitting for private law and other family cases increasing by 52 per cent to almost 83,000.

The number of weeks for a case to be completed has also risen from 26 to 45, according to statistics in September 2022.

Deputy prime minister and justice secretary, Dominic Raab, addressed the issue in a foreword, writing: “The government believes that more disputes could be resolved without going to a courtroom, sparing families from this unnecessary stress, and children from avoidable anxiety.

“Providing families with an affordable, appropriate, and effective alternative to court will help achieve this.”

Lauren, who is working towards the Law Society’s Children Law Accreditation, added: “It’s fantastic to see the government increasing its support of mediation, which can only help protect families from further anxiety at what is already a difficult time.”

To speak to a member of the family law team at Watsons Solicitors, please contact or call 01925 571212.

Watsons Solicitors, which has been established for more than 60 years, specialises in family law, employment lawwills and probate, and conveyancing.

The team of experienced solicitors holds various accreditations and memberships of professional bodies relevant to their expertise, while the firm’s partners oversee all areas of work.

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