Family mediation: The depressingly low take-up
In July 2016 the Ministry of Justice released figures for the preliminary mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs), which have to be attended (with very few exemptions) by all who want to use the family courts to resolve disputes on separation over children or money. Of the 20,693 applications in the first quarter of 2016, fewer than half of the applications contained a completed certificate about MIAMs. It is unlikely that all uncompleted forms were from applicants exempt from this certificate (reasons include domestic violence, involvement of Social Services in welfare issues, at least one of the couple lives abroad).
Attendance at mediation should not be compulsory. The voluntary and consensual nature that underpins the success of the process. For money cases, a mediator who also practices as a solicitor can make a huge difference. Clients are entitled to have legal information when considering issues such as transferring a home, sharing a pension.
Receipt of information about mediation should be compulsory for all in the family courts, with no exemptions. Judges could refuse to proceed with a case unless they know this has been done, not least on the basis of “proportionality” which test includes the use of court time.
Particularly where children are involved, specialist therapeutic services save long-lasting emotional wear and tear, as well as precious court resources. Tavistock Relationships’ recent ground-breaking work with CAFCASS “Parents In Dispute” helped 30 families with a combined total of 2,613 weeks (50.25 years) in court. The longest case had been using court time for 358 weeks.
Relation Hubs, a local resource for all separating families, could offer mediation and therapeutic services, without any perceived stigma which can be attached to out of court dispute resolution as a soft option.
Mediation fits the current zeitgeist for self-autonomy (for example the growth of prenups, and businesses such as Uber and Air B’n’B) where individuals work things out for themselves.
How many mediators does it take to change a light bulb? None, the couple do it for themselves.
This article was originally published in Solicitors Journal, and can be found here.
Partner, Hunters incorporating May, May & Merrimans.