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Family Mediation – everything you need to know

Tuesday January 30, 2024

Let’s talk about family mediation.

If you don’t know someone who has been to family mediation yet, you probably soon will. 

Family mediation has been an alternative to court based dispute resolution for decades. It’s simpler, quicker, and cheaper and yet so many people are wary of trying it. And that’s about to change.

This year, the court service is preparing to boost its powers to encourage people to use “non court dispute resolution” (NCDR). 

And family mediation is the most widely available (and cheapest) type of NCDR. 


Why does the court service want more people to go to family mediation?

Family mediation is a less stressful and simpler way of resolving issues around separation.

Too many people are trying to use the court system to resolve family issues that could be resolved in other (less adversarial) ways.

This causes delay and clogs up the system, preventing those who really need to use the family court, from accessing the help they need. 

Urgent cases, such as those designed to keep families and children safe from harm, aren’t heard quickly enough.

Non urgent cases, that could potentially be dealt with at family mediation, are facing even longer delays. 

This doesn’t help anyone. In some cases, it can lead to financial hardship or emotional harm.


What’s changing?

The court rules are being updated to restrict access to the family court until people have tried resolving their disputes in other ways first.

Certain exemptions will continue to apply, such as where there is a risk of (or has been) domestic abuse. 


Fewer exemptions from family mediation.

From 8th April 2024, fewer general exemptions will be available from the requirement to try mediation before making certain types of court application.

People will be expected to use online, video mediation services if face to face is not available.

Evidence of having attended a mediation information and assessment meeting will need to be attached to the court application.

Applications will be scrutinised at an early stage and people will be referred back to mediation before the first court appointment where appropriate.


Adjournment for family mediation

Judges will be required to actively consider whether it is appropriate to adjourn cases and require people to attend a mediation meeting, at every stage of the case, not just at the outset.


Sanctions for those who don’t try family mediation

As part of the shake up, those who refuse to try family mediation or other NCDR face possible costs sanctions.


Does that mean family mediation is now compulsory? 

No. Whilst you will be required to explore family mediation, it is, for the moment at least, still your choice whether it’s right for you. 


The future of family mediation

The direction of travel is very clear. Family mediation is here to stay and we all need to be talking about it. 

Family disputes need to be resolved out of court.  As we say in Manchester, don’t look back in anger.


About the author

Nicola Williams is solicitor specialising in family finances. She is a member of Resolution (formerly the Solicitors Family Law Association) and qualified as a mediator in 2003. 

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