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Starting 21 March 2022, it will be illegal for anyone, including visitors, in Wales, to use any physical punishment including smacking, hitting, slapping and shaking of children. This will give children the same protection from assault as adults.

Parents will no longer be able to rely on the defence of reasonable chastisement in these circumstances.

The labour led Welsh Government has started a 6 month publicity campaign, including this video, to make the public aware of the change in the law and support services available to supplement the objective of protecting children from the harm of physical punishment.

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In late March 2021 the government introduced a non means tested £500 per family voucher for family mediation for separated families who need to make arrangements for children.

£1 Million was allocated to the scheme. I am pleased to hear that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has made a further £800,000 available for the scheme to help separated families.

Resolving arrangements outside court is usually quicker and cheaper than through the courts. Mediation often helps families retain control of their child arrangements in communicating better to make their own decisions affecting their children and themselves to the benefit of all concerned as well as helping relieving pressure on the courts.

The scheme is administered by the Family Mediation Council (FMC) on behalf of the MoJ. Applications for the voucher, which are very quickly processed by the FMC, are made by accredited mediators on behalf of the family after the parties have attended a MIAMS meeting ( Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) with the accredited mediator. The cost of the MIAMS is not covered by the voucher but the first £500 of the subsequent mediation costs are funded by the voucher with any additional costs being met by the parties.

As long as there are child arrangements to be made the voucher will also cover the costs of discussing financial arrangements.

I am an FMC accredited mediator (URN 0818A) and have signed up to participate in the scheme. If you would like further information please contact me using the telephone number, contact form or email address on this website.

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The government announced on 26 March 2021 that it is investing £1m in family mediation, to support families .

Under the scheme, the Ministry of Justice will provide contributions of up to £500 per family, to resolve issues relating to children following parental separation. Mediation will be provided by Family Mediation Council Accredited (FMCA) mediators and the fund will reduce the costs of mediation for at least 2000 families.
John Taylor, Chair of the Family Mediation Council said ‘This government investment in mediation is much welcomed by the Family Mediation Council. It will help separated families agree solutions that are best for their children, taking into account what is going to be important for them as they grow up. Family mediation is a proven cost-effective way to resolve differences following separation. This voucher scheme will make it even more accessible, and will help families resolve issues for themselves, without having to go to court.’
Family mediation is a process in which an independent, professionally trained mediator helps parents work out arrangements for children and finances following separation. Mediation can also be helpful when previous child arrangements need to change, particularly as children grow up.

The Family Mediation Council is a not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to promote the use of family mediation for the benefit of the public. It does not offer mediation itself. Family Mediation Council Accredited mediators meet rigorous professional standards

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Before attending a joint mediation meeting you need to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting, or ‘MIAM’ for short, to see if mediation could be used to resolve your difficulties and to avoid going to court. If you need to go to court you must first attend this meeting.

The MIAM is a confidential meeting between you and a mediator to look at your situation in more detail and to discuss the ways to find solutions to your problems.

The mediator will explain to you:

  • what your options might be.
  • what mediation is, and how it works.
  • the benefits of mediation and other appropriate forms of resolving disputes.
  • the likely costs of using mediation.
  • this is the Information part of the Meeting. The objective is to give you enough information to then make an assessment/informed decision about what option is best for you.
  • if you decide on mediation the mediator would then contact the other party to invite them to a similar meeting.
  •  if you both then wish to go ahead with mediation the first joint mediation meeting would be arranged.

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1. Have these handy; a pen, paper, a drink and tissues.

2. Have to hand any documents you have or will wish to share for mediation in case you need to refer to them.

3. Check the suitability of the space in which you will be sitting during the online mediation session and, in particular, think about what will be visible to the other party and if he/she might be sensitive to eg pictures of other people.

4.Test/ensure that your camera is on your face and light directed towards the face and not behind you and that you test your audio and video connection before joining the meeting.

5. Turn off or put to silent any devices like phones, tablets or computers, and disable alerts announcements or notifications of texts, emails, tweets or other social media activity; and close down any application other than the one providing the online video service.

6. Be clear how to join the meeting. The mediator should explain how to do this depending on the platform being used eg Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, Face Time.

7. Dress appropriately for a serious meeting even though it takes place online.

8. It helps to arrive early and to be on time. You will then be in a more relaxed frame of mind.

9. If using Zoom, when you join the Meeting you will be in the Waiting Room. Wait until the mediator lets you into the Meeting Room. If there are any problems starting the meeting or a lost connection during the meeting it is helpful to have arranged beforehand with the mediator how to contact each other to discuss the problem.

10. If you need a break for any reason during the meeting ask the mediator.

11. If you are unexpectedly joined by another party during the mediation let the mediator know so you can discuss how to deal with the situation.

12. Do not talk over each other during the mediation. The mediator will ensure that every one has a chance to speak and be heard. Sometimes, depending on the connection, there can be a delay in transmitting when people speak. Mediating online can often be more tiring than face to face meetings.

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The government, in the name of the Department for Works and Pensions, has announced that from early 2018 it wants to take powers to enforce child maintenance arrears against joint accounts where the payer either does not have their own account or their own bank account doesn’t have enough money in it to pay the arrears. The powers will include both lump sum and regular payment orders.

These deduction order powers are to be subject to safeguards to avoid the power being used to take money not belonging to the paying parent. For example, the Department will obtain details of past bank statements which will be examined to work out from the history of the account what money belongs to the paying parent.

Account holders will have rights to make representations, rights to review, variation of decisions and will have appeal rights.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/654279/government-response-to-consultation-on-deduction-orders-against-joint-accounts.pdf

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A few days ago the Supreme Court clarified a question concerning the court’s powers on divorce.

Divorce courts only have the powers given to them by parliament so are not free to do anything outside that “toolbox” of powers. Often divorcing couples wish to agree matters outside the power of the court. For some time this situation been dealt with by “ undertakings” i.e. promises by one party to the other. So final court orders often consist of a series of promises followed by court orders. So the undertakings/promises are not the court exercising its powers. When a divorce court exercises its powers that is usually a one off exercise so orders cannot subsequently be varied in the case of orders relating to capital. Maintenance orders are different as the court has power to vary.

In Birch part of the final agreed order provided for the husband to transfer his interest in the home to the wife and she promised to obtain his release from his promises under the mortgage by an agreed date, failing which the home would be sold to enable that release to take place. Accordingly,the husband is likely to have relied on that promise when agreeing to the overall terms of the agreement/order.

In the event the wife was unable to secure the husband’s release as had been promised. Instead of putting the house on the market for sale she applied to the court to vary her undertaking so as to extend the deadline until several years later.

The case fought all the way to the Supreme Court as the husband argued that the court had no power to hear the wife’s application. However, the court has now issued its decision in favour of the wife therefore decided that it has the power to vary undertakings albeit that power is not unfettered.

Advisers must now be very careful when advising their clients to agree to undertakings as previously it was thought that the undertaking could not be varied but the court has now said that the courts have the power to vary undertakings.

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This is the title to a new video posted on YouTube by HM Courts and Tribunal Service promoting a promise of a huge investment to revolutionise how justice is administered through using digital services and an online court. For divorce a simple online system is promised.

We are all used to government making promises and promoting high expectations. Let us hope that this is a promise that will be delivered as any steps to reduce the cost and stress of divorce on families is to be welcomed.

This is the link to the video, called Justice Matters:

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Since 1973 the only ground for divorce has been irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.This can only be proven in one of 5 ways: adultery, unreasonable behaviour and 2 years separation with the consent of the other party being the most commonly used.

This immediately creates a hostile situation, as one party has to successfully raise one of these grounds against the other party, at a time when financial and emotional energies could be better spent sorting out the family finances and arrangements for the children.

This can create a very real problem where one party has concluded that the marriage has irretrievable broken down but the other party choses to defend the divorce proceedings. To take matters forward then involves a public trial of the allegations. This can be a very real problem, as shown in the case of Tini Owens, who is at present asking the court of appeal to overturn a decision of a lower court judge, who refused to allow her petition for divorce. The vast majority of divorces go through undefended so it is unusual to have a defended divorce and even more unusual for a divorce petition to be refused.

However, notwithstanding widespread calls for a No Fault based divorce system, the government, through the justice minister and House of Lords spokesperson Lord Keen, recently indicated that the government “… have no current plans to change the existing law on divorce ”.

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Recent figures published by the Office for National Statistics show that the divorce rate has declined by 27% from 2003, to the 2014 figure of 111,169 divorces in England and Wales. Of these, the most was in the age group 44/49 for men and 40/44 for women.

Nicola Haines, of the Office for National Statistics, said that likely reasons included the increasing age of first marriage and the increase in cohabitation. Also, compared to 2004, divorce rates in 2014 were lower for all age groups except for women aged 55 or over.

Divorce is most likely to occur in the first 10 years of marriage and where a marriage has lasted for 20 years, there is a greater chance the couple will not divorce.

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/divorce/bulletins/divorcesinenglandandwales/2014