Earlier this year, the Ministry of Justice launched a family mediation voucher scheme through which up to £500 is made available to separating families to spend on mediation where they need to make arrangements for their children.

The aim of the scheme was to reduce the backlog in the courts and allow separated families to reach agreement about their child arrangements with less potential for parental conflict. Data from the Family Mediation Council, who administer the scheme on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, shows the success of the scheme so far, with approximately 130 vouchers being accessed online every week, helping over 70% of those families reach agreement and avoid what are often protracted and highly stressful court proceedings.

The government has just announced that it will be investing an additional £800,000 in the scheme, so what is mediation and could it help you?

Mediation is where you and your partner meet with a professionally trained mediator to identify, discuss and try and resolve any issues between you. The mediator is impartial, neutral and independent of any legal advice either of you may also be receiving. The process is voluntary and any discussions you have between you and the mediator are usually confidential and without prejudice.

Every case is different, but generally speaking, you will need 3-5 sessions to resolve issues with the first few sessions often being the most difficult. Your mediator should encourage you to continue provided it is safe to do so and there is not an unhealthy power imbalance between you, as it becomes easier once the sensitive and difficult issues are out in the open and each of you can start understanding and/or appreciating the others point of view. However, it can take time to find a third way to resolve issues and it may not always be possible to do so through mediation alone.

If you and your partner can reach an agreement in mediation (whether this be on matters relating to the arrangements for your children, or an appropriate financial settlement dealing with the division of your assets and income), then this can be put into a Memorandum of Understanding by the mediator setting out the arrangements for you to move forward. You can then discuss the arrangements with your respective solicitors who, for financial matters, can convert the Memorandum of Understanding into a consent order for the court to approve to finalise matters for you.

Mediation is not a process that suits every couple but, in the right environment, with the right mediator, and with both parties cooperation, it can be a very effective and positive way to settle disputes and reach an outcome that works for you and your family.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.