What does the new Mediation Voucher Scheme mean for families?

The government has introduced a Family Mediation Voucher Scheme aimed at supporting parties to resolve their family law disputes outside of court. Victoria Tallis, a trainee in Thrings’ Family team, takes a look.

As part of its response to Covid-19, the government has developed a Family Mediation Voucher Scheme whereby, in certain cases, families undertaking mediation will be eligible for up to £500 towards the costs of the mediation.

The scheme, which was introduced on 26 March 2021, is the first of its kind and aims to make mediation accessible to more families, as well as supporting the recovery of the family courts following the pandemic.

Mediation is a way in which parties may try to resolve their disputes outside of the courtroom. An independent, professionally trained mediator will work with the parties and assist them in reaching a solution. It is not designed to try to save a relationship, but instead allows parties to reach a practical and realistic solution.

Before the scheme came into force, those attending mediation would have to pay the costs themselves unless they were eligible for legal aid. With legal cuts in family law rife over recent years, the cost of mediation was often a barrier to the amicable resolution of disputes. The scheme is therefore seen as a welcome relief for many families.

The Family Mediation Voucher Scheme has been developed by the Ministry of Justice and will run until the allocated funds are spent. An estimated 2,000 families in the UK are set to benefit from the scheme.

Under the scheme, a contribution of up to £500 per case/family will be provided, with payments made directly from the Family Mediation Council to the relevant mediator.

The vouchers do not cover the cost of a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) or the paperwork involved with the mediation. They are also only available to families who undertake mediation after 26 March 2021.

It is important to note that not all cases will be eligible for the vouchers.

To be eligible, the matter must either relate to a dispute or application regarding a child, or a family financial matter where the parties are also involved in a dispute or application relating to a child. Importantly, if the dispute relates solely to a financial remedy dispute, individuals will not be able to obtain a voucher.

Eligibility for the scheme is not based on income. Instead, an assessment will be undertaken at the MIAM as to whether the issues that the parties are seeking to resolve are suitable for mediation. If the mediator determines the case is suitable for the scheme, the individual will be offered a voucher contribution.

Those eligible for legal aid are not excluded from the scheme. However, where a mediator determines that the individual may qualify for legal aid, that individual should be made aware of this. Mediators are required to inform the individual of the differences between the scheme and legal aid and individuals should be made aware that legal aid is preferable. Where one party is eligible for legal aid, the other party may still be able to obtain a voucher under the scheme to assist them with their mediation costs.

It is hoped that the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme will offer significant support to family mediation and assist families in reaching solutions in an amicable and efficient way.

Please note: Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice and we are not liable for any reliance on the information provided. Information may be correct at the time of writing, but circumstances may have changed since publication. Please refer to Gov.uk for up to date advice. To find out more about anything covered in this article, please contact a member of Thrings’ Family team.

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