Q: I understand that nowadays you can’t apply to the divorce court for a Financial Order unless you have gone through mediation, but what happens about children? Are arrangements for them made during mediation? How are they governed? Do children have to attend the mediation sessions?
A: All separating couples must be assessed for mediation prior to making any application to the Court regarding children or money unless it can be proven that there has been domestic abuse. First you would attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) to find out whether or not mediation was likely to be an effective way of sorting out your financial and other arrangements, including child arrangements. Mediation can be a better way of sorting out all issues relating to separation as it can save you money and aims to reduce conflict. In some instances legal aid is still available for mediation, despite no longer being available for court hearings.
If you and your ex-partner cannot agree, child arrangements can be decided by making an application to the court but you would have to prove that you had first attended a MIAM before going to court. Arrangements that can be made by court order include where children will live, when they will spend time with each parent, who will pay child maintenance etc. ‘Child arrangement orders’ have replaced ‘residence orders’ and ‘contact orders’. There is also a ‘specific issue order’ which governs a child’s upbringing, deciding for example which school they go to. A ‘prohibited steps order’ stops one parent from making a decision about their child’s upbringing against the wishes of the other parent.
Finally, to answer your question about children attending mediation sessions, they do not have to attend but any child over the age of six can attend if it is felt to be appropriate and beneficial to the child.