Family mediation is being put front and centre in the government’s attempt to modernise the family justice system. A new Children and Families Act came into force on 22nd April 2014, with the stated aim of tackling delay in the family court and putting children’s best interests at the heart of decision-making.
Under Section 10 of the new Act, it is now a requirement for a person to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making certain kinds of applications to obtain a court order. A list of these applications is set out in paragraphs 12 and 13 of amended Practice Direction 3A (to be read in conjunction with Part 3 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 as amended). Essentially the kind of disputes covered are those over financial settlements and arrangements for the care of children.
The MIAM is frequently characterised as “mediation awareness” in the press. It is intended to highlight how disputes can be resolved through family mediation – face-to-face discussions facilitated by an impartial mediator. Mediation has the potential to reduce the time it takes to reach agreement, cut down costs for both parties considerably, save court time, and above all lessen ill feelings and stress inherent in such a difficult process. Once an agreement is reached, both parties then instruct their own solicitors to make it a permanent settlement.
Is mediation compulsory?
The new Children and Families Act does not make mediation compulsory. One of the core principles of mediation is that is has to be voluntary. However, under the new Act the court may refuse to issue an application unless the applicant has been made aware of the benefits of mediation as an alternative way of resolving disputes by attending a MIAM – and has a mediator-signed form to prove it.
Our earlier post The Children and Families Act 2014 is coming! sets out the exemptions to this requirement.
As BLB’s family mediator in Bath and Bristol, I welcome the new legislation. It can only be good for more separated couples to explore mediation as an option before going to court. I hope that it might also encourage people to attend a MIAM as soon as they separate rather than waiting until expensive and acrimonious court proceedings become a real possibility.
From my experience, and the experience of my clients, mediation can be particularly beneficial in family cases as there will usually be a continuing relationship between the mediating couple following dispute resolution. Family mediation can help reduce tension and hostility and improve chances of long-term co-operation between parents and couples, for example in agreeing arrangements for their children. There can also be cost benefits – the costs are usually considerably less than using solicitors as intermediaries.
What happens during a MIAM?
You may attend a MIAM at our offices in Bath, Bristol or Bradford on Avon. They take 30 minutes and we see each client separately. The purpose of the meeting is to gather details about your circumstances and assess with you whether mediation would be helpful in your case.
The cost of a MIAM at BLB is £50 plus VAT.
If you progress to mediation, we will see you both together for as many sessions as are necessary; on average a couple will need 3-5 sessions to resolve their issues, although more or less may be required depending upon complexity. Each session lasts for an hour and a half for which we charge £180 per person plus VAT. There is then an additional charge for follow-up paperwork between sessions and for drafting of summaries at the conclusion of the process.
What form do I need the mediator to sign?
If you do not wish to mediate or mediation is unsuitable for your circumstances, we can supply you with an appropriate certificate to this effect at the MIAM for an additional fee of £37 plus VAT.
The certificate is required as proof that you have attended a MIAM. Without it the court will refuse to accept an application for a financial order within divorce or for an order in children proceedings unless certain exemptions apply.
If you intend to apply for a financial order within divorce, the mediator’s certificate will be provided on Form A (page 9); for most Children Act applications (e.g. child arrangements, prohibited steps and specific issue orders) you will need the mediator to provide their certificate on a Form C100 (page 19); and in all other cases, the appropriate form is an FM1.
If you would like to find out more about family mediation in Bath, Bristol or Bradford on Avon, please contact Sarah Jackson at BLB Solicitors.
Image by Andrew Tarrant under a Creative Commons Licence