Since 6 April 2011, separating couples have been expected to consider whether mediation might be a better way of resolving their disputes than battling things out in court. This is because the government and the courts believe that mediation and other forms of dispute resolution could help many families. Alternatives to going to court, including mediation, are often quicker, cheaper and less confrontational.
Since April 2014 a new law was introduced and the aim of the new law is that everyone who wants to ask the court to decide a family dispute is expected to attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (often known as a MIAM) before issuing an application to court, unless they have a very good reason not to do so.
Courts are required to know that mediation has been considered before they are able to proceed with your application.
Only in serious circumstances - such as allegations of domestic violence or concerns about serious harm to children - will it be possible to go straight to court without attending one of these meetings.
At a mediation information and assessment meeting you will meet with a qualified family mediator, and discuss your personal situation on a confidential basis. Usually this is a one to one meeting, although sometimes, a separating couple can attend part of the meeting together if they want to do this. The mediator will provide information about the range of options available to separating families, and will discuss with you the advantages and disadvantages of each option. The mediator will also ask questions, and make an assessment to decide whether or not mediation is a suitable way forward for your family in your own particular circumstances.
Mediation allows a separating couple to decide the terms of their split between themselves, helped by a trained and impartial mediator, rather than fighting each other through lawyers, with a judge making the key decisions which will shape their lives. Research shows it can cost a quarter of the price and take a quarter of the time of going to court, and with two thirds of publicly funded mediation already resulting in full agreement, it can ensure better results for families too.
Currently many people repeatedly go to court to argue over matters they are better placed to sort out themselves - like securing 30 minutes extra contact time or varying their allocated contact days.
This is expensive and emotionally draining for all concerned. Parents are best placed to resolve these types of issues and mediation can help them do this. If for any reason either of you choose not to try mediation, or one of the other alternatives to court, or if the mediator decides that mediation isn't suitable for your family's situation, the case can continue towards court.
When MIAM’s were first introduced Minister Jonathan Djanogly said:
"Nearly every time I ask someone if their stressful divorce battle through the courts was worth it, their answer is no. Mediation is a quicker, cheaper and more amicable alternative, particularly where children are concerned.
"Mediation already helps thousands of legally-aided people across England and Wales every year, but I am concerned those funding their own court actions are missing out on the benefits it can bring. Now everyone will have the opportunity to see if it could be a better solution than going straight to court."
Notes: National Audit Office figures on legally-aided mediation show that the average time for a mediated case to be completed is 110 days, compared to 435 days for court cases on similar issues. Mediation is also often cheaper than going to court - data from Legal Aid cases show the average cost per client of mediation is £535 compared to £2,823 for cases going to court.
What happens when I go to family mediation?
After the MIAM, if you all agree to try mediation, you will need to attend mediation sessions. The length and number of sessions will vary depending on your situation and generally are between 1 - 2 hours and 3 to 5 sessions.
When an agreement is reached, the mediator will write it down in a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ so that everyone is clear about what has been decided.
Agreements made in mediation can be made legally binding by a court if both you and your ex-partner agree. This is sometimes useful if arrangements are meant to run over a period of time, such as child maintenance payments, or if you want something a little more formal to help you both stick to your agreement. Some people going through mediation find it helpful to have legal support to advise them. Legal Aid may be available to help pay for this.
What if things don’t go as planned afterwards?
If the situation changes and the arrangements are not working, you can go back to the mediator. If needed, you can agree to change the Memorandum of Understanding.