On 26th March 2021, the Ministry of Justice launched a mediation voucher scheme in an effort to help families avoid going to court.
The scheme provides a financial contribution of up to £500 towards the mediation costs for eligible cases, the purpose of which is to assist families to resolve their disputes outside of the court arena.
What is family mediation?
Family mediation is a process where a professionally trained independent mediator helps to work out arrangements with the other participant (usually an ex-partner) in relation to issues concerning children, finance or property.
The mediator will assist in providing for robust and fair discussion and help you through disagreements and find solutions that work for both parties. The mediator will explain how to make any agreement reached legally binding, should you wish to do so.
Should I consider mediation?
The Family team at Hay & Kilner are advocates for collaborative and conflict-free solutions to family law disputes, whether it’s related to child arrangements or divorce and separation. Family mediation ensures that all parties have the opportunity to stay in control and come to an agreement about childcare or financial arrangements without the court taking those decisions out of your hands.
In mediation, you can still work to find an agreement without being in the same room or space with the other person – you don’t have to spend time with the person you are in mediation with if you choose not to. Your mediator can help you find a way to resolve your disagreements without being in direct contact.
It is important to remember that mediation is not always effective, or appropriate depending on the circumstances, for example if there are allegations of domestic abuse. If mediation is unsuccessful or if it is deemed inappropriate, individuals still have the right to go to court.
Do I have to try mediation before starting the court process?
Before making an application to the court, you are required to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) unless you have a valid exemption, for example, in cases of domestic abuse.
A MIAM is a short meeting with a qualified mediator where you will be provided with information about mediation as a way of resolving your issues. The mediator will assess whether mediation is an appropriate option based on your individual circumstances. Both parties will need to attend a MIAM before undertaking mediation which can be attended together or separately.
Your family law solicitor will be able to advise you in your options and whether you need to attend a MIAM.
Do I have to pay for a MIAM before I attend mediation?
If you or the other parent/person are eligible for legal aid you both will qualify for a free MIAM (with mediators that carry out legal aid work).
If neither of you are eligible for legal aid, you will have to pay for the MIAM. This is around £90 per person. Estimated fees may vary depending on your location and the experience of the mediator. Some mediators offer reductions if you’re unemployed or on a low income but the mediation voucher is restricted to assisting with funding of mediation sessions only.
How do I apply for a family mediation voucher?
At your MIAM, the mediator will assess the issues which you seek to resolve to see if they are suitable for mediation and meet the eligibility requirements for the voucher scheme.
Not all cases are eligible under the scheme. The case types specified below are eligible for a mediation voucher:
Can I get a voucher if I am eligible for Legal Aid or the other party is eligible for Legal Aid?
If you are eligible for legal aid, you can still be eligible for a voucher.
If one person in the case is eligible for legal aid, the other person can still apply for a voucher to contribute towards their mediation costs. If the other person is eligible for legal aid and you are not, then you will also be entitled to legal aid funding which will cover the costs of the MIA and the first mediation session.