From 22 April 2014 anyone who wants to issue family proceedings will have to attend a compulsory Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM). For those of you who are less familiar with legal jargon, this is effectively a meeting with a qualified mediator who is independent from both you and your partner/ex partner/spouse (or whoever it may be). At the meeting it will be decided whether pursuing a course of mediation in order to settle family matters outside of court will be appropriate or not.
Up until now (and for the next 4 days) this meeting has been optional (other than in some publically funded situations), with a box ticked on a simple form which was submitted to Court to say that it was felt mediation is not appropriate. That was that, no further questions (the majority of the time) were asked.
The situation as of 22 April will be quite different. Before making an application to Court in family proceedings, individuals will have to attend a MIAMs meeting first.
The benefit of this is that anyone thinking of issuing court proceedings is forced to consider the option available to them to settle matters away from the Court. This can have some real advantages including keeping your case in your own hands (i.e. you decide the outcome and not a judge), keeping costs down and avoiding the stressful situation of having to attend Court.
There are arguments against this change however. Although you can effectively keep your case in your own hands that does not necessarily guarantee a settlement. It may be that your case just isn’t one where an agreement can be reached and so the views of a judge and attendance at court could ultimately prove to be very beneficial. In addition, a mediator cannot make a final decision on your case, they can only assist on helping reach an agreement, whereas a Final Hearing at Court will provide a long stop date to having things sorted out. Mediation can also be just as stressful as attending court and should not be viewed as the ‘easy’ option.
Overall I do feel this shift towards compulsory MIAMs will benefit a large number of people going through family disputes and will hopefully result in agreements which both parties are happier with as opposed to judges decisions, which neither part are. I do however have concerns that there will still be those who are left feeling as though they are being pushed into a procedure which they do not necessarily feel comfortable with and which will not ultimately benefit them.
No doubt clients will keep me well informed as to their experiences with the compulsory MIAMs and I am interested to see how it pans out.
To be continued….!