Mediation information and assessment meetings to become mandatory

Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings to become a mandatory requirement. Early last week, Parliament considered the Children and Families Bill.

Within the Bill is a proposed change to the law concerning Family Mediation and the requirement to first attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making an application to court on any family-related case (including both children and financial matters).

At the moment, the family law protocol states that a potential applicant should consider whether Mediation is appropriate before making an application to court. If they have not done so, they can be ordered by the Judge to attend a MIAM at any stage in the application process.

The proposal is that the law should be changed to state that every applicant must attend a MIAM before making an application; hence making the assessment process mandatory. It is expected that the new law will be passed in the next few months.

In the past year and in particular since the widespread cuts to legal aid in April 2013, there has been a significant downturn in the number of referrals to mediation and in turn a significant increase in the number of new applications to the court for family-related cases. This flies in the face of what the Government was apparently aiming to achieve by making legal aid widely available for mediation, rather than for family-related legal advice.

The Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes is in support of family mediation and commented recently that:

"When people separate we want them to do it in the least damaging way for everyone involved, especially children. That is why we want them to use the excellent mediation services available to agree a way forward, rather than have one forced upon them. Exemptions will continue to apply to the requirements, such as where there is evidence of domestic violence and/or significant child welfare concerns."

Mediation will also continue to be voluntary and the new law relates only to the assessment meeting. It is hoped, however, that the changes will encourage more potential court applicants to resolve their disputes through mediation rather than through the courts.

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