Published on September 26, 2023

What You Need to Know

Going through a separation or divorce can be emotionally challenging, especially when children are involved. To encourage separated parents in England & Wales to reach their own informed agreements efficiently and peacefully, the government launched the family mediation voucher scheme in March 2021, initially in response to the Covid-19 crisis to support recovery in the family court and to encourage more people to consider mediation as a means of resolving their disputes, where appropriate.

The scheme has been extended twice since its launch because of the proven success in supporting parents to stay out of court and in control of their children’s arrangements. The scheme is now available to families facing separation until April 2025. Here’s what you need to know about the scheme.

What is the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme?

The family mediation voucher scheme is a government initiative that provides separated parents with a voucher worth up to £500 towards the cost of mediation services. Mediation is a process where an impartial mediator helps parents work together to reach mutually acceptable agreements on issues such as child arrangements, finances, and/or property.

Who is Eligible?

The family mediation voucher scheme is for separated parents living in England & Wales who need help deciding arrangements for their children. It’s available to all families and is not means-tested. But if the issues only relate to finances and/or property, you won’t be eligible for the voucher.

How to Apply for a Voucher?

Only mediators who are authorised and registered by the Family Mediation Council (FMC) can apply for a voucher on behalf of their clients. If you want to use the scheme, it’s important to find a mediator who is registered for it. So, when you’re looking for a family mediator, ask if they are registered for the government family mediation voucher scheme.

Each parent will need to sign a consent form for a joint application to be submitted on their behalf by the chosen mediator. You will be requested to confirm that you have asked the mediator to apply for the voucher, have not already applied for another voucher as part of the same scheme, and have given consent to your mediator giving necessary information to the FMC.

Where Can I Spend the Voucher and What Will it Cover?

The mediation voucher can be used towards the cost of joint mediation sessions once granted with the registered mediation service. It cannot be used towards any preparation work carried out in support of your mediation by the mediator or the cost of your initial separate mediation, information and assessment meeting, better known as a ‘MIAM’. Dependent on the hourly rate of the mediator chosen, the voucher may cover the cost of a maximum of 2.5 hours of mediation based on an hourly rate of £200. If additional hours of mediation are required, parents can choose to pay for the service themselves or, if eligible, apply for legal aid mediation.

Conclusion

The family mediation voucher scheme is an invaluable resource for separated parents in England & Wales who need help agreeing on child arrangements. The government is providing financial assistance for mediation services to reduce the emotional and financial burden on separatedfamilies. If you qualify for the scheme, it’s worth considering mediation as a first step.

Mediation lets you and your ex-partner stay in control of the decisions, without going to court. Your mediator will assess if mediation is safe and suitable for you, and the only initial cost is for the MIAM, which is usually around £100 to £150 each. If you’re eligible for legal aid mediation, the cost of the MIAM will be covered. Mediation can save time, money, and stress for everyone involved. So, please take advantage of the scheme, if your case is assessed as safe and suitable.

Sushma Kotecha contributed to ‘Separating With Children 101’, 3rd edition, (Bath Publishing, 2023)

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The Early Days Of Separation

Humans are designed to cope with many onslaughts, but change continues to prove extremely challenging. How you manage the early days of separation or divorce has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the process.

When couples separate, they are often thrown into a period of uncertainty. Identities are changing from couple to single, from mum and dad together as a family unit to mum with children and dad with children. Depending on the circumstances and who decides to leave the family home, there are many questions that arise during the early days of separation. “Will we have to sell our home?” “I haven’t worked since we had children – how will we manage financially?” “What will our friends and family think?” “How much will divorce cost?”
“Will I cope on my own?” There seems to be so much to sort out both practically and emotionally and it comes at a time when at least one of you will be ‘all over the place’ emotionally due to the loss you are experiencing. This can make decision-making seem impossible. Who wants to agree the practicalities of legal issues and more importantly organise the children when they are devastated, angry and confused by loss? It can turn otherwise rational, clear-thinking mums and dads into what appears to be belligerent, stubborn, unreasonable people.

Take Your Time!

In those early days of separation or divorce, take your time if you can. Seek support from friends, family and professionals. Try not to make any big decisions too quickly.
Bear in mind that communication problems with your ex and all the pressures on family life you are now experiencing, like for many separating couples, will get better with time. It’s important to recognise that you and your ex will more than likely be in very different emotional places at the moment; different stress levels and anxieties will be making communication difficult. Taking the time to sometimes do nothing, to not react, give things a day or two, can prove very useful techniques.
What you have to remember is that if you have children, your ex is always going to be part of your life. That can be hard to take on board when you are feeling hurt and angry. If you can find a way to communicate with each other that focuses on the children, you will all benefit in the years to come.

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