A national family mediation system could make it easier to resolve the many issues that are a result of separation and divorce, such as property, finances, children and the emotional impact on everyone involved. This would allow people to get on with their lives and move forward. However, to be effective, the current system needs a good understanding of what is working and what isn’t, so that it can be continually improved. This is why we at NFM believe that it’s time for a debate on the future of family mediation in the UK.
The last few years have seen a wave of developments and iterations within the wider family justice system. The introduction of the mediation voucher scheme, the Ministry of Justice’s new Online Dispute Resolution Engagement Session and a raft of amendments and tweaks to legislation have all been seen as positive steps in the right direction.
What is less well understood is what impact these changes have had on the wider community of family mediators. There is a perception that many family mediators are disengaged with the wider family mediation industry, which can be attributed to many factors. This lack of engagement could potentially undermine any effort to develop a unified voice for the profession and encourage standard practice.
A key issue is the fragmentation of family mediators into a number of different sub-groups. This is reflected in the way that the research and commentary on family mediation has historically categorised mediators into two groups – ‘lawyer mediators’ and ‘non-lawyer mediators’. It is feared that the use of these terms can inadvertently suggest that there are fundamental differences between the two groups, which can be damaging to family mediation as a whole.
There is also the issue of the tensions that are arising between these sub-groups. As one interviewee commented, ‘people are frightened of their turf being invaded’. This sense of competition between professional sub-groups has a long history in family law and is likely to persist into the post LASPO climate unless changes are made.
Finally, there is the problem of the role of the regulator. It is argued that the current model of regulation is outdated and not fit for purpose in the new age of the family mediation sector. There is a need for a regulator that can speak with a single voice for the whole community of family mediators. A body such as this can help family mediators to promote standards that are consistent with best practice and support a strong, vibrant professional identity. It is clear that this is essential if we are to build a strong, unified and sustainable family mediation system. For more information on how to get involved in the discussion on this topic please visit the NFM website. Alternatively, contact us directly to have your say. national family mediation