The proposals for England and Wales could see thousands of children affected if mediation becomes mandatory for all suitable low-level family court cases. However, cases which include allegations or a history of domestic violence under the proposals would be exempt.
The ministry has said that separating couples will have to try to agree to child custody and financial arrangements through a qualified mediator. Court action could still be an option if they don’t come to an agreement.
Justice secretary Dominic Raab spoke after the department said the move would help up to 19,000 separating families resolve their issues out of court — which will in turn free up space for other cases.
Mr Raab said: “When parents drag out their separation through lengthy and combative courtroom battles, it impacts their children’s school work, 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.”
The proposals will be subject to a Government consultation, which will run for 12 weeks from Thursday, closing on June 15.
The ministry also said that its family mediation voucher scheme would be extended until April 2025 with an additional £15 million in funding. The scheme provides parting couples with vouchers worth up to £500 to help them solve disputes through mediation and has so far supported more than 15,300 families.
Proposals to make the scheme feasible include introducing new powers for judges to order parents to try mediation, with potential fines if they harm a child by prolonging court proceedings.
Jacky Tiotto, the chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, said: “[The service] strongly welcomes the focus on supporting more parents to agree how they will care for their children and spend time together without the need to make an application to the family court when they are separating.
“We work with in excess of 145,000 children every year and we see the harm to which children are exposed in long adversarial court proceedings.
“Programmes that encourage parents to consider together what is safe and in the best interests of their children help to keep the focus on what children want and need as they grow up.”