Extension for innovative project which moves warring couples from courtroom to mediation

Jane Robey
The success of a ground-breaking Government-funded project that helps separated parents negotiate, rather than conduct heated courtroom battles, has been confirmed by a six-month extension to its lifespan.

The At-Court Mediation project is run by National Family Mediation (NFM). It currently operates in three pilot areas: Herefordshire, Berkshire and West Yorkshire, providing one-to-one support to reduce conflict between couples.

It helps parents who have been separated for more than two years and who are currently undergoing court processes over child-related issues to suspend legal proceedings and meet with specialist mediators to help them negotiate long-term arrangements for children, property and finance. The mediators use coaching methods to help parents improve their negotiating skills and communicate more positively, keeping the child at the centre.

“The results are impressive and encouraging,” says Jane Robey, NFM’s Chief Executive. “So far 300 families have been helped by this project, and three quarters of them report a reduction in conflict and stress, and an increase in positive communication.

“The interests of children and young people are easily forgotten in the heat of a protracted court room battle. This project is helping parents seriously consider how they communicate with and react to each other and, crucially, the impact all this has on their children.

“The project is showing that couples who have become entrenched in conflict can, with the right help, find an exit from the courtroom drama and move on in a positive way.”

Announcing a six-month extension to the project, which began in March 2014, Steve Webb, Government Minister with responsibility for child maintenance, said “Family breakdown can be difficult for everyone involved, but the evidence shows that children stand a much better chance of getting on in life when their parents are working together.”

He added that the extra funding will allow the project to continue its excellent work by helping parents to put aside their differences for their children’s sake.

“We are starting to see some very encouraging results from these projects which will be invaluable when it comes to designing future services and are proving priceless for the families being helped,” he said.

Funding for the project, making it free to users, comes from The Department for Work and Pensions Innovation Fund: Help and Support for Separated Families. NFM works together with judges, The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, legal advisors and other local stakeholders to deliver the project.