Sweeping Changes to the Family Courts and Mediation
The face of Family Law changed dramatically on 22 April 2014, with the introduction of the new Family Court reforms.
Some of the changes involve a greater focus upon Mediation as an alternative to the Court system. Mediation has long been recognised as a very useful tool to help separating couples make their own decisions and agreements about arrangements for the children, the family home and other issues arising at time of a separation. Unfortunately, there has in the past been a lack of information of Mediation and many couples of chosen to make an application to the Court rather than consider Mediation as an alternative.
The new informs have changed all this. It is now a requirement that anyone who is considering applying to the Court, whether it is for an Order about child arrangements or a Financial Order, must first have attended a meeting with a Mediator. This appointment is known as a MIAM or Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting.
On all the new Family Court application forms, there is for the first time a whole new section which deals specifically with Mediation and whether the parties have attended a MIAM appointment with an authorised Mediator. If this section is not completed or the person applying for an Order has not attended a MIAM, the application will be rejected. In fact the expectation now is that both parties to the application will attend a MIAM where possible.
There are only limited circumstances in which the Applicant can claim an exemption from the need to attend a MIAM or to mediate, the main ones being:
If there has been domestic violence
If there are serious concerns about a child’s welfare
The application is too urgent for there to be time to attend a MIAM
There have been related Court proceedings in the last four months
The exemptions are set out in full on the Court application forms.
So what happens at a MIAM?
A MIAM is a meeting with a local Mediator where you will receive information about Mediation and how it can benefit you and your family. The meetings can be done either jointly with your former partner or separately and the mediator can consider with you whether your situation is suitable for mediation, along with any concerns or worries you may have. You can also discuss funding for mediation. Further mediation sessions can then be arranged if you decide to continue with mediation.
In addition to the requirement to attend a MIAM at the outset of your case, the Court will also consider the possibility of Mediation at all stages of your case. The Judge can raise this possibility at every Court hearing and your case could be adjourned to enable you to attend mediation if it is thought suitable.
Therefore the whole focus of Family Court proceedings will now be upon trying to resolve your differences amicably. The guiding principle is that wherever possible both parents should be involved in their children’s lives and the decisions that need to made. Similarly the separating couple should be discussing and making their own decisions about the future of the family home and finances. This can only result in less stressful and costly separations and happier children.
Jo Donald is a trained Mediator at Emery Johnson Astills based at our Leicester office. We offer MIAMs appointments on a privately funded basis at a cost of £75 including VAT. If you decide to continue mediating, sessions are charged at £120 including VAT per person for a 1½ session.
If you are interested in making appointment for a MIAM or starting a Mediation process, please contact our Leicester office.