If you are considering making an application to court in relation to children or matrimonial finances the law is changing! When the Children and Families Bill is enacted (likely date – April 2014) any person who wishes to make a relevant family application must first attend a family mediation information and assessment meeting (a ‘MIAM’) to find out and consider mediation or other forms of non-court based resolution. MIAMs have been around for a couple of years but there has been no obligation to attend and the courts have been varied in their approach; some insisting on them and some virtually ignoring them. When the law changes, MIAMs will become compulsory.
This month the Office for National Statistics published figures for divorces in 2012. There were 118,140 divorces and 48% of divorcing couples had at least one child under 16 living with the family. Nearly 100,000 children under 16 were living in households where the parents were divorcing. The abolition of legal aid for most family law proceedings has, as was predicted, resulted in a considerable increase in people making applications to court without being represented by a solicitor. The Government is keen to encourage divorcing and separating couples to take their issues away from the courts and into mediation and although it has retained legal aid for mediation (not widely known), it is anticipated that this new law will result in increased take up of mediation following attendance at a MIAM. But will it?
One of the disappointments for the mediation profession is that attendance is only compulsory for the applicants, and not the respondents to an application. Research shows that where both parties attend, they are more likely to start the mediation process. If the respondent has instructed a solicitor, they can be approached to encourage their client to attend the MIAM. If not, the mediator and/or the applicant can invite the respondent to attend, and the invitation can be produced (along with the FM1) to court as appropriate. Even after proceedings have started, judges can stop them to allow for mediation to take place. Of course, mediation is not suitable to everyone, but to save the expense and anguish of court proceedings, it is an option worth trying. The late (great) John Cornwell liked mediation because of its ability to deliver a pragmatic solution in a swift and comparatively cheap context.
For more information about our Mediation Service, contact our family team.