You may have read in the news that if you are getting divorced you may be eligible to receive a £500 mediation voucher to help pay for family mediation. In this article, our divorce expert, Robin Charrot, answers your questions on the new mediation voucher scheme and looks at the importance of legal mediation support.
The family mediation voucher scheme
The Ministry of Justice has announced that it has allocated one million pounds to enable up to 2,000 separating or divorcing couples to receive a £500 mediation voucher to help towards the costs of family mediation.
Divorce solicitors say that competition for the £500 vouchers may be fierce as the Ministry of Justice says that the vouchers will be allocated on a ‘ first-come first-serve’ basis, rather than on a points or any other type of allocation system.
What does the family mediation voucher scheme cover?
The mediation voucher scheme covers family mediation on a range of family law issues, such as:
- Child custody.
- Child contact.
- Child maintenance.
- Financial settlement after a separation or divorce where there is also a dispute over children and either ongoing or potential children law proceedings.
Why has the family mediation scheme been introduced?
The family mediation voucher scheme has been introduced at this stage to help reduce court applications and to encourage the use of family mediation. That’s because the government believes that family mediation is a better, quicker and cheaper option than separating and divorcing couples starting family court proceedings to resolve child custody and contact issues or to secure a financial settlement.
When will the family mediation voucher scheme operate from?
The scheme was introduced on the 26 March 2021 under Practice Direction 36V (Family Mediation Voucher Scheme). The practice direction will expire after a year and the mediation vouchers will only be available whilst funding lasts.
Does the voucher scheme cover the cost of attending a MIAM?
The family mediation voucher scheme doesn’t cover the cost of attending the mediation information and assessment meeting (referred to as a MIAM). This initial meeting with a mediator is designed to check that mediation is suitable before family mediation is commenced. To be eligible for the voucher, both parties to the family mediation must have attended a MIAM on or after the 26 March 2021. One can’t have attended the MIAM before the 26 March 2021 and the other after the 26th.
Can both parties to the family mediation receive a voucher?
The £500 mediation voucher is per family and may not cover the total cost of the mediation sessions as your mediation costs will depend on your choice of family mediator and the number of mediation sessions that you require. The voucher is paid direct to the mediator, rather than given to either party to the mediation to use to pay the mediator’s bill. The £500 mediation voucher is inclusive of vat.
Is there a financial eligibility cap for the mediation voucher?
There are no financial eligibility criteria for the family mediation voucher. Anyone who meets the MIAM date and mediation subject criteria may be able to secure a £500 mediation voucher to cover or contribute towards their mediation costs.
Who pays for family mediation if a mediation voucher isn’t available?
If you can’t secure a family mediation voucher because:
- One of you attended a MIAM before the 26 March 2021 or
- You are mediating on a financial settlement only and there are no childcare issues to mediate or
- The mediation voucher scheme runs out of funds or
- For any other reason.
Then the usually the mediator will check if either one of you is eligible for legal aid to cover the cost of mediation. If neither of you are eligible for mediation legal aid then you will need to agree on how the mediation sessions will be funded. You can either agree to share the mediation costs equally or come to another agreement, such as that one of you will pay for the mediation sessions or that the mediation sessions will be paid for out of your joint savings account.
Even if you do secure a £500 mediation voucher, if you go to a number of mediation sessions the voucher may not the total mediation cost. That’s why it is best to agree on how you will share any mediation cost in excess of the £500 voucher.
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Does the mediation voucher cover the cost of mediation support?
The mediation voucher doesn’t cover the cost of mediation support from a divorce solicitor. However, mediation support can be very cost effective. Taking legal advice before and/or after mediation sessions can help you understand:
- Your legal options, such as the type of court application that you could commence or your former partner could start.
- The likely range of orders that a court could make if you or your former partner started court proceedings.
- The potential costs of applying for a court order or responding to a court application and the timescale for completion of the court proceedings.
- The impact of any issues raised in mediation. For example, financial disclosure issues raised during the mediation process where you are trying to reach a financial settlement.
- Whether proposals put forward in mediation are within the range of orders that a family court would be likely to make if either you or your ex-partner were to start family law court proceedings.
- Legal advice on any aspects that are making it hard to reach a compromise in mediation. For example, if one of you believes that you have a legal right to equal parenting or one of you believes that an inheritance or a pension isn’t relevant to any financial settlement discussions.
- The legal process to sort out your divorce or to draft a separation agreement or to secure a financial court order or draw up a parenting plan and the legal status of a financial court order or parenting plan.
By receiving mediation support and getting the legal advice you need during the mediation process you may be more likely to have the confidence to reach a mediated agreement. Evolve Family Law can help you with independent specialist family law advice before and after mediation to support and guide you, including advice on any of the post-mediation documentation that may be necessary.
We are Divorce and Family Law Solicitors
Evolve Family Law offices are in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire and Whitefield, North Manchester but we also offer remote meetings by telephone appointment or video call.