Couples who are considering separating will be able to access £500 vouchers to pay for mediation to help them settle disputes without having to go to court.

Mediation is often a quicker and cheaper way of resolving disputes, which can spare families the trauma of attending court and the impact this can have on children.

It involves couples working through their differences – led by a trained and accredited mediator – to reach agreements they are both prepared to accept, such as how to split assets or arranging child contact times, rather than have a judge decide for them. They can then ask a court to consider their agreement and make it into a legally binding and enforceable court order.

Research suggests that more than 70% of those using these services will resolve their issues outside of courtroom.

The scheme is for families seeking to resolve private law or financial matters relating to children – for example child arrangement orders or financial disputes regarding a child’s upbringing. If a case is eligible for vouchers, the mediator will automatically claim back the contributions from the government.

The move follows other new measures to help reduce family conflict, including introducing new laws to spare divorcing couples the need to apportion blame for the breakdown of their marriage.

What is family mediation?

• Family mediation is a process in which an independent, professionally trained mediator helps couples work out arrangements for children and finances where there is a dispute.

• The mediator is not there to tell each side what to do but can help them reach an agreement while trying to improve communication between them. They aren’t there to try and keep couples together but help them find a practical way forward after a relationship has broken down.

• Mediation allows the parties to stay in control, as no one will be forced to do anything or agree to anything against their wishes.

Unlike in a courtroom both partners can agree to a solution rather than have a judge decide for them.

• The mediator will work with the parties, either together or separately, to help them find a solution which works for them both.

• Mediation can be less stressful than going to court, especially for children who are involved in proceedings. It is also cheaper than going through the court process, and it is also confidential unlike proceedings in the family court.

• Currently, funded mediation is available only for those who meet the financial requirements through the Legal Aid scheme. If you don’t qualify then you will need to pay for mediation sessions.

The scheme will be administered by the Family Mediation Council on behalf of the Ministry of Justice.

Further information about the scheme and how it works will be provided to parties at their Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM), which all those involved in family cases are required to attend, unless they have a valid exemption.

We shall keep clients informed of developments.

Please contact us if you would like to know more about mediation or any aspect of family law.