The Family Mediation Voucher Scheme
In recent years there has been a push for those experiencing family disputes to attempt to use mediation to resolve the issue without using the Family Court. In fact, it is now a legal requirement to at least consider mediation through attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making a court application, save for some specific exemptions. The rationale for this is that mediation is far better in resolving disputes for both you and the legal system. Mediation supports the parties to reach a decision which is right for you whereas the court takes that decision-making power and makes their own decision based on judgment. Furthermore, the Family Court is inundated with applications, and this has only been exacerbated due to the recent pandemic. Presently, it is unlikely that applicants will receive a hearing date earlier than four months after the date of the application. Mediation can commence almost immediately following your initial enquiry. It is a win-win for both you and our Courts.
As part of this active encouragement for parties to attempt dispute resolution through mediation, last month it was announced that the Ministry of Justice has created a family mediation voucher scheme to support families to go to mediation where there are limited finances. The voucher scheme is time-limited, but it is currently providing a sum of £500 per case to families who are mediating on child arrangements issues. The scheme has been developed as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic with a view to supporting families to settle disputes.
Given the active encouragement of mediation in family disputes, it is hoped that the voucher scheme will allow for more people to access mediation so that less cases are coming before the family court. The scheme contributes up to £500 toward the total costs of mediation – but this does not cover the MIAM. The voucher scheme will cover the costs of your joint sessions. At Direct Mediation Services, the cost of joint sessions is £120 per person per session (so a total of £240). The voucher scheme would therefore cover the costs of two joint mediation sessions.
What is family mediation?
Mediation is a method of alternative dispute resolution where an impartial third party facilitates the communication between the involved parties and assists them to reach a practical solution that meets the needs of both sides. Other forms of alternative dispute resolution include arbitration and negotiation. In family mediation, former partners sit down with a mediator, they identify the family issues that need to be addressed and finally move forward to hopefully make agreements that both parties are happy with and work in everybody’s interests, especially children. In child arrangements disputes, children will always be at the focus of discussions and their best interests at heart.
Any agreements reached at mediation are not legally binding, however it can be made legally binding through taking the agreement to a solicitor and gaining a consent order.
What are the benefits of family mediation?
As briefly outlined above, the process of mediation entails numerous benefits in comparison with settling your dispute in court.
First of all, the parties have greater control over their dispute and unlike court judgments where the decision is made by a judge and binding upon parties, agreements made at mediation keeps the decision making in the hands of the parties and is made binding by the consent of both parties involved. In short, the agreement is dependent on all parties agreeing on the terms.
Secondly, the cost for the parties can be significantly reduced. The cost of going to court can become very costly, very quickly, particularly when also paying for legal advice and/or instructing legal representation. What is so beneficial about the voucher scheme as it reduces these costs even further!
Thirdly, mediation is a far quicker than court proceedings, so the parties can save time by choosing to come to agreements with the aid of a trained mediator. As mentioned previously, the current waiting times for court hearings are longer than ever due to the massive backlog arising from the pandemic. Additionally, it avoids the risk of a difficult and stressful court experience which can have a negative impact on the children.
Accessing mediation during the pandemic
Direct Mediation Services have successfully adapted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The MIAM can be done by either Zoom, WhatsApp Video or a telephone call.
It’s worth noting however that in cases where a participant is legally aided, they must use either Zoom or WhatsApp as the participant is required to be on video. The joint sessions are usually held on Zoom, but we are flexible to work around your needs
We have acquired all the necessary provisions to ensure that our online services maintain the same professional standards as in face-to-face sessions. Impartiality and confidentiality remain our priorities and our mediators take all the necessary steps to ensure that the principles of mediation are upheld and are being respected. For example, we may ask you to pan the room with your webcam before commencing the session to show that there is no one overhearing the discusses during mediation.
Online mediation is as effective and useful as it is in face-to-face sessions and some may say that it comes with additional benefits for the participants, such as saving traveling costs and time.
We are happy to make adjustments that are right for you. If you have any concerns or problems get in touch with us and a member of our team can talk this through with you.
Who is eligible for the voucher?
Eligibility for the mediation voucher is unrelated to an individual’s income. Once you have attended your MIAM and had your case assessed for suitability, you may be able to apply for the voucher scheme. Not all mediation cases satisfy the requirements – only the following cases will be eligible for the voucher:
- Child arrangement disputes; or
- Disputes involving financial matters where there is also a child arrangement issue.
Your case must relate to children in order to qualify. You cannot qualify for the voucher scheme if your mediation case solely relates to a financial dispute.
How does the voucher work?
Once you are deemed eligible for the voucher, your mediator will apply for the funding, and it is payable directly to them. This covers the costs that would otherwise be payable by yourself. You yourself do not receive a voucher nor any payment. Your mediator makes the application for you.
What if my costs exceed £500?
Currently the scheme is only providing a fixed £500 on a per case basis, and you cannot claim more than one voucher. So, if your case exceeds £500 then you will need to cover the remaining costs independently. As outlined above, by mediating with us the voucher will cover a total of two joint sessions. It is not uncommon for disputes to be settled in two sessions, but your mediator will be able to indicate how many sessions are likely to be required from the outset.
What if I have attended a MIAM before the 26th of March 2021?
To be eligible for the voucher, both parties must attend a MIAM after the 26th of March. If one party has attended a MIAM before this date and the other party after this date, then they are not eligible for the scheme. Similarly, the parties that had started attending mediation sessions before the 26th of March cannot claim the voucher.
What if the other party is claiming legal aid?
You can still claim the voucher even where one of the parties are on legal aid as it is allocated per case, not per person. Remember however that the voucher does not cover the cost of a MIAM, but legal aid does. If you have any questions about this, please get in touch with us for further clarification.
What is the timeline?
The scheme commenced on the 26th of March 2021. Mediation participants who attended a MIAM on or after this date are eligible. The government has announced that it will invest £1 million for family mediation, meaning that the fund will reduce the costs for at least 2000 families.
So, what should I do next?
The first step is to book in a MIAM. You can do this directly through our website here, or by calling us on 0113 468 9593. At your MIAM your case will be assessed for suitability for mediation and also you can ask your mediator whether you qualify for the voucher scheme. If you do, you should ask your mediator to make an application for the voucher scheme to cover the costs of any future joint mediation sessions.
You could discuss with your mediator at this stage.
Remember, after your MIAM we will write to the other party to invite them to attend their own separate MIAM. It is not until both parties have attended a MIAM and agreed to mediate and move to joint sessions that the voucher scheme comes into effect.
Want to known more about family mediation?
You can call Direct Mediation Services on 0113 4689593, email [email protected] or complete the form below for a free call back.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much can I claim with the new voucher scheme?
The voucher scheme gives up to £500 per family for mediation either relating to child arrangements or for financial arrangements where children are involved. Remember that the £500 is per family (per case), not per person..
Am I eligible for the voucher?
If you have: Attended a MIAM, moved to joint session mediation, and are mediating regarding children, then you will likely be eligible for the voucher scheme. Participants mediating solely on financial issues cannot claim the voucher scheme.
Can I claim the voucher scheme as well as Legal Aid?
Yes. Families where one participant is Legally Aided and the other does not qualify may choose to use the voucher scheme so that the non- Legal Aid participant can also receive funding.
Can I claim the voucher twice?
No. You can only claim one voucher per family (case). If your costs exceed £500 then you will need to either privately fund this or apply for Legal Aid.
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