A UK Government policy aimed at promoting the use of mediation between separating couples in England has been labelled an ‘embarrassing failure’ by national family charity National Family Mediation (NFM).
Research conducted by the charity found that only a fifth of separating couples had complied with a new law requiring them to consider mediation as a way of settling any disputes before going to court.
This law came into force in April 2014, and made it compulsory for separating couples in England to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before they go to court to settle their divorce.
Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice have shown that out of almost 18,000 private law applications in the first three months of 2016, less than 4,000 MIAMs took place. This equates to a take-up rate of 22%, which is low but still an improvement over the 7% recorded in 2015.
“The government’s aim was to introduce a less confrontational alternative to court, but the huge majority are ignoring the law,” commented Jane Robey, CEO of National Family Mediation. “It’s a shocking government failure. Things are slowly improving but at this rate it will be 2022 before this 2014 policy is actually in place and being properly complied with.”
“Ministers need to address this embarrassing failure by listening to mediation professionals who can advise on turning things around,” she added. “This is about so much more than government failure. It’s about the future of tens of thousands of families who could be using mediation to shape a bright future beyond divorce or separation: one that that doesn’t involve years of conflict and court room battles.”
NFM has highlighted the benefits that using mediation to resolve disputes can bring to separating couples, stressing that it is usually cheaper, quicker and much less stressful than court proceedings. In addition, it allows couples to stay in control of the process, rather than handing this control over the judge.
NFM has also pointed out that mediation is not only beneficial to couples going through a separation, but can also be helpful to parents who are already separated.
This is particularly true during periods that are traditionally stressful for separated parents, such as Christmas.
“Many separated couples face huge festive pressures,” explained Jane Robey. “Christmas heaps tension upon tension as they find settlements imposed by divorce courts are impractical, leaving the child caught helplessly in the middle of a miserable December.”
“Routine living arrangements that have worked well all year are often ditched for a couple of weeks, with turmoil for pick-ups and drop-offs when children need to visit relatives they haven’t seen all year,” she added.
In these situations, mediation can help separated parents draw up a parenting plan, setting out the arrangements for the period ahead in a way that works for everyone concerned.
“Both parents tailor it to suit the circumstances,” said Jane Robey. “It can be flexible, updated to match changing need, not just when holidays come, but in years beyond as the child grows up and parents’ jobs and relationships change.”
If you are going through a divorce or separation and would like to find out more about family mediation, or other alternative dispute resolution options, then contact our expert family lawyers today.