Separating parents in England and Wales could face fines for refusing to try mediation under new proposals.
The government is set to make sessions mandatory and offer funding support in an effort to divert cases away from under-pressure family courts.
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said “lengthy and combative courtroom battles” were harmful for children.
But the Law Society said the plan could put victims of undetected coercive control in a vulnerable position.
The government has launched a consultation on the policy, which it hopes will help to deal with backlogs in the family courts system.
The policy will apply to separations where children are involved but the government is also looking more broadly at compulsory mediation for those without children, and how that could be funded.
Mediation, where couples can agree the practicalities of a split in the presence of an independent specialist, is already available as an option, but there is no requirement to engage with it prior to going to court.
Under the plans, judges will be able to order separating couples to make a “reasonable attempt” to agree matters such as child custody and financial arrangements in mediation, and will face fines “if they act unreasonably and harm a child’s wellbeing by prolonging court proceedings”.
The new rules, which apply to couples with children who are married or in civil partnerships, will exclude relationships where there has been domestic abuse.
But the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, has warned the policy “risks sending people to mediation who should not be there”.
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