Mediation before court action to be mandatory for separating couples

The UK government has announced plans to make mediation mandatory for separating couples before they can go to court to resolve disputes over finances and child custody arrangements. The proposals would apply to all suitable low-level family court cases, with the exception of those involving domestic violence or an international element.

Separating couples will be obliged to try mediation before being allowed to go to court to settle disputes over financial and child custody arrangements. The government announcement is part of a major shake-up of the family justice system.

The proposals will see mediation become mandatory in all suitable low-level family court cases excluding those that include allegations or a history of domestic violence, or those cases with an international element. This will mean separating couples have to attempt to agree their child custody and financial arrangements through a qualified mediator with court action being a last resort.

At the moment, separating couples are obligated to attempt mediation, to a degree, and obtain a certificate from a qualified mediator confirming that one of the parties has tried it. The overhaul could however also introduce a new power for judges to order separating couples to make a reasonable attempt to mediate with possible financial penalties if they act unreasonably and harm a child’s wellbeing by prolonging court proceedings.

It is expected the move could help up to 19,000 separating families resolve their issues away from the courtroom, while also reducing backlogs, easing pressures on the family courts and ensuring the justice system can focus on the families it most needs to protect.

In the meantime, the government’s Family Mediation Voucher Scheme will be extended until April 2025 backed by an additional £15 million in funding. The scheme provides separating couples with vouchers worth up to £500 to help them solve disputes through mediation and has so far supported over 15,300 families.

Ministers say the changes will allow the family courts to better prioritise and provide protection for the most serious cases with safeguarding concerns where mediation is not an option, such as domestic abuse and child safety.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: “When parents drag out their separation through lengthy and combative courtroom battles it impacts on their children’s schoolwork, mental health and quality of life. Our plans will divert thousands of time-consuming family disputes away from the courts - to protect children and ensure the most urgent cases involving domestic abuse survivors are heard by a court as quickly as possible.”

Mediation is a process in which couples work through their differences with a trained and accredited mediator to reach agreements such as how to split assets or arrange child living arrangements, rather than have a judge decide for them. It is advisable, however, that separating couples continue to receive legal advice throughout the mediation process.

The voucher scheme has highlighted the benefit it can have on separating couples and their children. An analysis of the first 7,200 users of the scheme shows 69% of participants have reached whole or partial agreements away from court.

The proposals are subject to a government consultation which will run for 12 weeks, closing on 15 June 2023.

We shall keep clients informed of developments.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law on 020 8290 7341 or email

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