Weekly Family Law Update April 8, 2021

Maintenance. Mediation and the Family Court

Latest Child Maintenance Service statistics

The Department for Work and Pensions has published its latest quarterly statistics for the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’), for the quarter to December 2020.

The CMS deals with two types of child maintenance arrangements: Direct Pay and the Collect & Pay service. Direct Pay is where the CMS calculates the amount of maintenance to be paid and parents arrange the payments between themselves. If parents cannot do this or they do not pay what was agreed, then the CMS can collect and manage the payments between the parents. This is the Collect & Pay service.

The statistics showed that as at the end of December 2020 492,400 children were covered by 339,700 Direct Pay arrangements, and 259,100 children were covered by 193,300 arrangements through the Collect & Pay service.

Of Paying Parents on the Collect & Pay service 41,300 (28%) did not pay anything towards their child maintenance; 107,100 (72%) paid something towards their child maintenance; 33,300 (22%) paid up to 90% of their child maintenance; and 73,800 (50%) paid over 90% of their child maintenance.

Mediation increase

Statistics published by the Ministry of Justice show an increase in family mediation in the quarter to December 2020.

Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMs’), an initial meeting between one or both parties and a mediator to see if family mediation could be used to resolve the issue, increased by 14% in the quarter compared to the previous year, and currently stand at just over a third of the level that they were prior to the abolition of legal aid for most private family law matters in 2013.

Family mediation starts increased by 11%, and total outcomes increased by 16%, of which 62% were successful agreements, and are now sitting at almost two thirds of the level they were before legal aid was abolished.

Family Court cases increase

The Ministry of Justice has also published statistics for the Family Court, for the quarter to December 2020.

Amongst the main points were that the number of cases started in the Family Courts increase by 6% compared to the same quarter in 2019. This was due to increases in most case types: domestic violence (21%), financial remedy (8%), matrimonial (5%) and private law children (3%) cases.

The statistics also showed that the average time for divorce proceedings increased. The mean average time from petition to decree nisi was 30 weeks, and decree absolute was 56 weeks – up 2 weeks and 4 weeks respectively when compared to the equivalent quarter in 2019.

Voucher scheme to help towards cost of mediation

The government has launched a new voucher scheme to help towards the cost of mediation.

Under the scheme, around 2,000 families will be able to apply for a £500 voucher towards the cost of mediation, which is usually charged for unless one of the parties has access to legal aid.

The aims of the scheme are two-fold. Firstly, as an immediate measure to try to reduce the backlogs in family proceedings which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Secondly, to provide an evidence base around the effectiveness of providing a financial incentive to encourage disputes to be resolved via mediation, rather than through the courts.

Courts Minister, Lord Wolfson QC, commented:

“Mediation is often a quicker, cheaper and less stressful way of resolving disputes, which helps separating couples reach amicable agreements without an unnecessary and often acrimonious court process.

“Our new scheme will open up the benefits of these services to even more families – sparing them the stress of long legal battles, while also helping to lessen the pressure on our family courts as we recover from the pandemic.”