Success of service prompts ministers to double it in size, allowing more people going through separation to access mediation
By Charles Hymas, Home Affairs Editor 27 August 2021 • 10:00pm
A government scheme that pays couples £500 to divorce out of court has been so successful that ministers are to double it in size.
Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, has authorised a further 2,000 couples to be paid the cash to go to mediation rather than court in a bid to avoid irretrievably fracturing their families.
The tax-free vouchers are designed to help couples who are separating to resolve their difficulties amicably rather than going through potentially damaging court battles.
The service is to receive nearly £1 million extra, which will enable couples to pay for mediation where they can agree custody and contact with their children, share out their assets and agree maintenance arrangements.
The scheme was originally launched in March, with early results showing that three quarters of those who participated avoiding court through mediation. About 130 couples a week are now receiving the vouchers.
The move is part of a major shift in approach by the Government after ushering in no-fault divorce laws to make separation easier and less traumatic. The Ministry of Justice also believes it will help reduce pressure on the courts caused by backlogs that built up during Covid lockdowns.
Divorces have hit a seven-year high and are expected to increase after family tensions were fuelled during the lockdowns.
There were 107,599 divorces in 2019, an increase of 18.4 per cent from 90,871 in 2018 and the highest number since 2014. This has led to approximately 50,000 children being involved in court custody battles between their parents, who could now opt for mediation instead.
Ministers say that will spare children increased family conflict, which research by the University of Sussex found has a long-term impact on their mental health and development.
Lord Wolfson QC, the courts minister, told The Telegraph: "Hundreds of separating couples have already benefited from this scheme, resolving their disputes without the need for an often lengthy, costly and emotionally taxing court process.
"This additional funding will allow even more families to access these services, while helping to lessen the pressure on our family courts."
In one case, the parents of a three-year-old boy were able to avoid days in court by using the scheme to agree on future arrangements. The parents mistrusted each other and were sceptical about mediation but used it to resolve their differences, leaving the child with parents who still talked to each other.
The scheme is open to 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.
Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/08/27/voucher-scheme-paying-couples-500-divorce-court-extended/, online 08, September, 2021