Responses to the government’s mandatory mediation proposals have continued to flood in, with organisations such as the Family Solutions Group and the Association of Lawyers for Children (ALC) voicing concerns.
This sees them join the Law Society and Resolution who both made their stance clear in June that separating couples should not be subject to mandatory mediation.
Indeed, the latter recently gave oral evidence to this effect to the Justice Committee, stressing that while mediation helps and will continue to help many families who choose to use it, it is not right for everyone, and should not be forced upon anyone.
They suggest other forms of out of court dispute resolution need to be considered and funded, and that families should be provided with access to early legal advice.
Commenting on the government’s proposals, the Family Solutions Group said it was concerned that they are “pitched from the perspective of deterring people from court, rather than designing a system which offers the right help at the right time and prioritises good outcomes for children”.
They add that “some families will need the assistance and protection of the family court” while others will need support in finding solutions outside of court.
Recommendations put forward by the Group include an authoritative family separation website, and a triage meeting (MIAM) to assess needs and the appropriate pathway.
They also called for “Family Aid” for those who are financially eligible. As well as legal advice, this would include wrap-around support to help the family adapt and make it easier to resolve arrangements.
The ALC chose to highlight concerns around domestic abuse victims potentially being forced to attend sessions where they have not appreciated, or have no evidence to suggest, that certain behaviours have been abusive.
They also queried the threshold that will be applied for child protection exemptions. They added:
“The rigour and flexibility of the current framework whether under PD 12J and more generally under the Child Arrangements Programme in PD12B provides for the potential for harm to the parties and individual child of any given initiative to be evaluated, with advice from CAFCASS, at the first hearing. That protective mechanism with court oversight as to the appropriateness of any given programme is removed by the imposition of mandatory programmes in advance of application without a full understanding of the issues in the case. To mandate this process without even trialling voluntary pre proceedings attendance is deeply troubling.”