Have you ever bought a pair of socks sized “one size fits all?” I don’t know about you, but I have, and they don’t. You either end up with socks that are too big and create bunches of fabric in your shoes, leading to blisters; or they are too small and you have to pull them tight over your toes, leaving your feet feeling constricted. Either way, it is uncomfortable and so it is much better to buy a pair that actually fits.
Oddly enough, the idea that one size does not fit all sprang to mind when I read some time ago about the consultation the Government launched to consider compelling people to attend mediation, to attempt to agree children and financial arrangements between themselves, with court action being a last resort.
Why should couples be compelled to attend mediation? Yes, mediation is a wonderful tool with which to help separating couples reach agreement in respect of their finances and work out how they may co-parent going forward. In March 2021, the Government introduced the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme, which provides a contribution of up to £500 towards the mediation costs for those that are eligible. The scheme has been extended to April 2025 with an additional several million pounds of funding and, by March 2023, had already supported over 15,300 families. For the right couple, mediation can work wonders and I actively encourage clients to seriously consider mediation as an option. Mediation is not for everyone, however, and it is but one tool of so many available options to separating couples. Forcing couples into mediation cannot be a productive way forward. In order for mediation to be successful, it requires both parties involved to commit to that process; being told what to do doesn’t sit well with people. It also requires both parties to have equal bargaining power, i.e. it will not work if one party is used to dominating the other.
The first thing that anyone needs when they are contemplating separation, or have issues in respect of children matters, is advice: advice about their individual situation, what their options are and how best to achieve a resolution. A mediator can tell you about the law, but they cannot give you advice relevant to your individual circumstances.
When people are given legal advice about their circumstances, it enables them to make informed decisions about how to progress matters and they feel in control of the situation. Surely it is much better for people to want to attend mediation, rather than being forced into it?
Advice, choice and guidance along the way fit better than a one size fits all mandatory mediation.
More information about the alternatives to going to court can be found here.