A pilot scheme was launched on 26th March 2021. This pilot scheme is the Practice Direction 36V (Family Mediation Voucher Scheme). It is a modification of the Family Procedure Rules (FPR). The FPR governs how family courts are to manage family law cases as well as containing practice directions on how parties are to act in a court case. This scheme led to further investment on 28th August 2021 from the government in order to reach more families.
So what is the family mediation voucher scheme?
The Family Mediation Voucher Scheme (Family Scheme), was designed to offer a financial contribution of up to £500 towards mediation costs for eligible cases. It was brought in to deal with the backlog of cases in light of the pandemic and aid with court recovery. As well as a way to reduce cases going directly to court, and instead seek to have more cases resolved through mediation.
Who is eligible for financial assistance under the Scheme?
An individual is eligible for financial assistance under the Family Scheme where that person:
- Has attended a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) because the MIAM requirement applies or the court has requested that individual must attend a MIAM
- Is a party to an existing or prospective private law children proceedings, or is a party to financial remedy proceedings and are also a party to existing or prospective private law children proceedings; and
- There is existing funding available on the Family Scheme
So what is family mediation?
Mediation is not a court procedure. Whilst it is separate to the court process, the courts will often strongly request parties to participate in mediation, especially in family law cases. This is evidenced by the parties attending a MIAM, in which it will be considered whether mediation is suitable. There are exceptions to this such as issues of domestic abuse or emergency proceedings relating to children.
Simply put, a MIAM is a discussion with a mediator to provide individuals with the relevant information regarding mediation. It helps assess whether mediation would be suitable based on the facts of the case and the relationship between the parties. It allows individuals to get a further understanding of mediation before the prospective mediation takes place.
(If a party to the case is eligible for legal aid, then the MIAM will be free. Otherwise the MIAM is currently approximately £90 per person. The mediation voucher cannot be used for MIAM.)
A mediator is an independent third party that assists the parties in coming to a mutually agreed resolution through mediation. This decision can be legally binding should the parties wish (and later enforced in court if enforcement becomes necessary), but in most instances the decision is not actually legally binding. Mediation can be carried out online in light of the pandemic as well.
Should the circumstances of an individual allow them to be part of the Family Scheme, then the mediator at the MIAM will discuss the scheme with them. In the event that parties cannot reach an amicable agreement through mediation, then the court procedure can be initiated again.
As previously mentioned, the courts do strongly stress that mediation should be considered where appropriate. If either or both parties fail to consider or show evidence of considering meditation (in the absence of a valid reason excusing them from mediation), the court may take into consideration the offending behaviour of the parties when giving certain judgments or orders.