Since the law changed on 22 April 2014, most divorcing and separating couples in England and Wales who want to use the court process to resolve any questions about children or money have to show that they have attended a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before they can apply for a court order. The two people will usually be invited to separate private meetings.The applicant (the person asking the court to get involved) will almost always have to go to the meeting. The other person is expected to go, but does not have to unless the court says this must happen.
This new requirement was introduced because the government and the courts believe that mediation and other forms of dispute resolution can help many more families resolve their differences in a constructive way. Alternatives to going to court – including mediation, collaborative family law and arbitration – are often quicker, cheaper and less confrontational than the traditional court process.
What is a MIAM?
A Mediation Information Assessment Meeting is a meeting with a specially qualified family mediator, who will explain to you the alternatives to the court process. The purpose of the meeting is to give you an opportunity to find out whether going to court would really be the best way of dealing with the issues that you face following your relationship or marriage breakdown (e.g. children, property and financial issues), and in particular whether mediation could be an effective alternative.
What happens at the assessment meeting?
At a MIAM you will meet with a specially qualified family mediator, and discuss your personal situation on a confidential basis. Usually this is a one to one meeting, although sometimes you can attend part of the meeting with your former partner if you both want to do so.
The mediator will provide information about options available to you to resolve the issues around your separation and will discuss 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 you in your own particular circumstances.
Why has the government made MIAMs compulsory?
Currently, many people who are separating or divorcing go to court to argue over issues they are better placed to sort out between themselves – such as getting 30 minutes extra contact time with their children or varying their allocated contact days – or spend months on a court application over their finances with uncertainty as to outcome and potentially very substantial costs involved. Litigation is expensive and can be emotionally draining for all concerned. Families usually know more about their own personal circumstances than any else does and the government is keen to encourage people to make their own arrangements wherever possible, rather than go to court.
There are several alternatives to the court process – such as mediation and collaborative family law – and the purpose of compulsory MIAMs is to enable separating couples to explore these and other options available to them.
How much does a MIAM cost?
Despite the recent legal aid cuts, for people who are eligible public funding (legal aid) is still available from certain mediation services. Depending on your capital and income, you may be entitled to legal aid mediation. A mediator from one of the services which offer legal aid will assess eligibility at the MIAM.
If you do not qualify for public funding, there is a fee to be paid unless your former partner attends and is eligible for legal aid, in which case legal aid will pay for a MIAM for both of you. It is important to ask about charges prior to your meeting as fees can vary. They may be a little higher in London and the South East.
What if my partner won’t attend a MIAM?
As things stand, only one of you is required to attend a MIAM to talk through the alternatives to court and decide whether another route could be appropriate for you, your family and your particular circumstances. However, the other person is expected to attend when invited to do so and the court has the power to tell the person who has refused to attend a MIAM that they must do so.
Are there any exemptions?
Only in certain very specific circumstances – such as where there is evidence of domestic violence or a risk of serious harm to children – can you ask the court to decide what should happen without first attending one of these meetings. If the financial arrangements are already agreed the court can be asked to turn that agreement into a ‘consent order’, and if that happens there is no need to attend a MIAM first. The court application form sets out all the possible exemptions that can apply in different situations.
What happens if I don’t attend a MIAM?
You cannot issue an application at court without attending a MIAM unless a specific exemption applies in your case. The court will check to see if any exemption claimed is valid. If the court decides the exemption claimed is not valid, the court may require the applicant to attend a MIAM before it will deal with the application.
What should I look for in a family mediator?
It is important to choose a family mediator you feel comfortable working with and who gives you confidence in the mediation process. Look for a mediator who has been professionally trained, who is properly supervised and who is a member of one of the Family Mediation Council member organisations.