A controversial plan to force people to attend mediation in child disputes is causing a divergence of opinion amongst family solicitors.

The Government is currently undertaking a review of the family justice system for child disputes, such as child custody, where a child is to live or the level of contact between a child and a parent or other relative. One option being considered is to make mediation assessment compulsory for all people involved in child disputes.

Currently, mediation is a voluntary process. That being said, if a party is eligible for legal aid, their first step is mediation assessment unless they satisfy one of the grounds available to exempt them from mediation. However the Legal Services Commission, which grants legal aid to clients, has this week announced plans to remove most of the exemptions for mediation assessment, save for cases where domestic abuse is an issue, or if there is already a court hearing within the next few weeks. This will take effect from 15th November 2010.

Some Family Solicitors have voiced their concerns that compulsory mediation assessment is not always best placed to assist parents in resolving their disputes. Clients of mine who have been to mediation have informed me that some mediators themselves are of the view that mediation “never works” in children disputes!

Nevertheless, there are some clear benefits to mediation. If parents can reach agreement about issues concerning their child without going to court then surely that will always benefit the child? Therefore the key to successful mediation has to be to have two parents who can put themselves in their child’s shoes and focus purely on their child and what  is in that child’s best interests. The outcome of successful mediation should be two parents who are open minded to mediation and then can work together to parent their child. Sadly, from my experience that is not often the case.