Research resulted in improved practice for out-of-court family dispute resolution, better information online, and a video about available mediation options which has been widely adopted.


  • Evidence from the researchers influenced policymaking at the Ministry of Justice, leading to improved family dispute resolution practice and strengthening online information and support for separating couples.
  • The research findings were crucial for the development of Relate's prototype online Family Dispute Resolution service, designed to support separating families following cuts in legal aid.
  • Working with partner organisations, the research team led by Professor Anne Barlow produced the YouTube video 'Considering mediation', aimed at mediators and clients.
    • The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service are using the video in parenting-plan preparation and as a Family Court Advisor learning resource.
    • Family Mediators Association, Family Mediation Council and other organisations, including OnePlusOne, have linked to the video from their websites.
    • The video is also used by the Family Mediators Association in training and has been translated and used by the organisation as part of a 10-year development programme for mediators in Turkey.
    • South Bank University is also using it as a learning resource in its undergraduate Family Law module.
  • The researchers' Creating Paths workshops facilitated a joined-up approach to Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) policy and practice, bringing together the combined expertise of the policymaking, practitioner and relationship research/advice charity communities.

"The research was critical for the successful design of Relate's online support service, as it helped establish and test the viability of developing a sustainable operating model. The findings influenced us on key matters, such as the need for emotional readiness and better screening of couples in mediation." (Laura Dowson, Head of Innovation at Relate)

About the research

Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) practices can help separating couples to resolve issues about finance and child arrangements without going to court, using solicitor negotiations, mediation and collaborative law.

The 'Mapping Paths to Family Justice' research project, led by Professor Anne Barlow at the University of Exeter, assisted practitioners and couples in making informed and appropriate FDR choices by comparing the different FDRs that are available. Based on the data gathered from the research, the researchers developed a 'map' of different FDR pathways, and an assessment of which couples and cases were suited to each pathway.

"We found that rejection of mediation by an ex-partner was the most common reason not to mediate, especially if one person was 'emotionally unready' or practically unprepared. We also found that online information is critical to couples without legal advice," says Professor Barlow. "For some couples, mediation isn’t always appropriate and screening into and out of mediation needs to be more rigorous. We do also urge that the voice of the child becomes properly heard in FDR."

One of the findings was that online information about mediation is critical to separating couples who can't afford legal advice. People found it difficult to navigate confusing and poorly signposted information online, and were unable to assess its credibility and quality. This was believed to contribute to couples preferring to go to court (contrary to intended government policy outcomes), rather than taking part in out-of-court mediation.

In a follow-on project 'Creating Paths to Family Justice', policymakers, practitioners and organisations such as Relate participated in a series of workshops facilitated by the research team, which considered and addressed the research evidence. Coming together in this way has resulted in a more joined-up approach to FDR policy and practice – to the benefit of couples considering or undertaking mediation.