New research has cast further doubt over the success of the UK Government’s approach to encouraging a greater use of mediation amongst separating couples in England and Wales.
Mediation uses negotiations to reach agreements which both people are prepared to live with, rather than having them dictated by the court. It is led by a trained and certified mediator and couples can ask a court to consider and make their agreement into a legally binding and enforceable court order.
According to the Government, research shows that mediation can help people to reach solutions more quickly and cheaply and that couples who use mediation are less likely to need to return to the legal system to sort out ongoing issues. As it is a less confrontational process than taking a battle to court, it is also less traumatic for any children involved.
With effect from April 2014 it has been compulsory for separating couples in England and Wales to take part in a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before they can proceed to court to settle any disputes arising out of the separation, such as disputes relating to children, finances and property. There are exemptions from this requirement in certain situations, for example in cases of domestic violence.
However, according to recent analysis by National Family Mediation (NFM), many couples are choosing to ignore the law and proceed straight to court. There were around 90,000 applications to a family court in 2016, but only 35,627, or just less than 40%, had taken part in a MIAM first.
“By making the consideration of mediated settlements compulsory, the Government’s aim was help tens of thousands of couples who separate each year save money, time and stress in making post-divorce arrangements,” commented NFM Chief Executive, Jane Robey.
“Only four out of ten couples are even attending the initial mediation awareness meeting, let alone following that route through to its conclusion,” she said. “Ministers need to get to grips with what’s going on and explain these figures. Until they do so, the 2014 legislation, though well-intentioned, will be seen as a failure.”
“The Government surely needs to be more instrumental in ensuring that the law is properly enforced so that much more mediation is delivered and many more families avoid high cost damaging litigation, achieving better outcomes for the whole family,” Jane Robey added. “At the very least Ministers need to provide more support to inform, educate and publicise the fact that MIAMs are compulsory so they ensure that the law is properly enforced and that much more mediation is delivered.”
If you are thinking about divorce or separation, or are already going through the process, then contact us today. Our expert family lawyers recognise the stress that families come under during these difficult times, and will work with you to get you through the process as quickly and easily as possible, while still achieving the best possible outcome for you and any children from the relationship.