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Family mediation can help address annual multi-billion pound cost of family breakdown to the taxpayer

This is the submission made by National Family Mediation to the UK government’s Comprehensive Spending Review representations process (September 2020)

National Family Mediation (NFM) is the largest provider of family mediation in England and Wales. We are also the only non-profit provider.

NFM is also a founding member of the Family Mediation Council, the regulator of family mediation.

Family mediation reduces family conflict and improves outcomes for separating families, which benefit all family members, especially children and women.

In 2016 the cost to the UK economy of family breakdown was calculated at £48 billion by The Relationships Foundation. The ‘hidden’ costs of divorce and separation to the taxpayer include:
• Welfare benefits
• Emergency housing following domestic violence
• Physical and mental health
• Social services and care
• Children in care
• Police and prisons
• Courts, legal services and legal aid
• Child maintenance
• Educational provision following disciplinary and behavioural issues
• Free school meals
• Tertiary education drop out
• Young people not in education, employment or training

With improved take-up of family mediation, the government could significantly reduce these huge taxpayer costs.

Indeed the government itself has long trumpeted the benefits of family mediation, and expressed a wish for its expansion and increased take-up. The government recognises that, comparing family mediation with the ‘traditional’ route for divorcing couples – lawyer to court to stressful battle, mediation is cheaper, quicker, and less stressful. And that the family remains in control of the process, instead of handing it to a judge.

The success of family mediation is also proven. Early in 2020 the Family Mediation Council announced results of a survey of mediators. 73 per cent of Mediation Information And Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) attended by both parties converted to full mediation, and 70 per cent of mediation cases resulted in agreement.

So NFM and government Ministers agree that more separating families need to reap the benefits.

Since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), the number of litigants in person has soared, causing family courts to be swamped. COVID-19 has of course exacerbated the situation in recent months, with family courts closed, further increasing the logjam. There is no end in sight to this. It is generally recognised – and has been for some time – that this situation is untenable. The government needs to act.

Data also shows the LASPO Act had a devastating impact on mediation take-up.

NFM is not arguing for wholesale legislative change, with the upheaval and expense that would bring.

As realists, we recognise we have to work with what we have. And the truth is it’s already in place. It just needs to be used better.

NFM has three requests that it fervently hopes will emerge from the CSR and associated processes:

Firstly that MIAMs are made free of charge to all. With a 73 per cent conversion from MIAM meeting to full mediation, and a 70 per cent agreement rate resulting from this conversion, the government will reap the benefits of more families reaching agreements away from court – reducing the burden on the taxpayer.

The simplest way to improve MIAM attendance and therefore conversion to full mediation would be to make the now-compulsory MIAM meeting freely available to all, particularly at the point people are making application to court.

There would be a relatively nominal additional cost to this measure, compared to the huge and rising costs of running family courts and providing other private family law services.

Second, we ask for improved gatekeeping, so that the courts are confident people have in fact been to the ‘compulsory’ MIAM. This would involve some minor administrative changes, but the impact would make it worthwhile.

Thirdly, a cost-neutral measure. Courts should use the powers they already have. Judges should be encouraged to make use of their existing powers under S.11a of the Children Act 1989 to adjourn cases for MIAM attendance as a contact activity – either separate to an order to attend a SPIP programme or at the same time, and as routine when cases are set to face significant delay before they come to court.

This would give mediators access to more separating couples, and therefore convert people to undertaking full mediation.

In our view these three simple steps would help meet demand and expand mediation for families at a vulnerable time. In turn this would have a hugely beneficial impact on investment in people, reducing the impact of divorce and separation on the NHS and crime levels, especially upon women, children and young people. Finally, these three steps would help address the huge cost to the UK economy of family breakdown.

Jane Robey
CEO
National Family Mediation