Ever since Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) were introduced in April 2011, there has been a lot of confusion about what they are and when they need to be undertaken. This blog post aims to turn this confusion into clarity, whether you are a solicitor or other advisor who is referring a client to mediation or whether you are a client who is considering starting the mediation process.
To give some background, mediators have for many years offered individual intake meetings to anyone who was looking into the mediation process, in order to discuss the client’s situation and the options available to each client in a confidential setting. The formal introduction of MIAMs by the government in April 2011 brought up the concept of it being best practice for anyone who is considering making a court application to the family law courts to first attend a MIAM. It was not until April 2014 that the government brought in legislation to make it compulsory for most family law court applicants to hold a MIAM with a mediator before starting the court process.
The end result is that, unless there is a valid exception (e.g. serious domestic violence or an urgent need to make a court application), anyone who is considering making a contested court application to the family law courts, for example in relation to finances following separation/divorce or with reference to children’s living arrangements, now needs to attend a MIAM.
Whilst there is no obligation to a attend a MIAM for anyone who is simply filing for divorce or for people who are trying to resolve matters amongst themselves or via solicitors without a contested court process, there will often be many benefits for both parties to attend a MIAM, especially when there are assets such as house or pensions, or children’s arrangements, to consider. Not only will this give the client a chance to make sure that they are aware of all the options open to them but, if this then results in the joint mediation process being started then this could end up saving both parties a lot of time, money and angst, as well as assisting them to move forwards with their lives in as positive a way as possible.
During the MIAM, the mediator should cover the various options that are open to the client, ranging from the client proceeding with a court application to discussing the best way to contact the other party with a view to exploring the possibility of starting the joint mediation process.
If the initial client decides to proceed with a court application then the mediator should explain clearly the risk that, unless there is a valid reason for the other party not to be contacted and offered the opportunity to mediate, the court might either reject the court application or order that mediation be fully explored at the first court hearing, therefore potentially causing long delays and increasing the legal costs involved in the court process.
Whatever route is taken, if the process reaches the stage where mediation is not proceeding and one of the parties wants to make a court application, the mediator will need to be instructed to complete the mediator’s section of the court form to show that a MIAM has been attended by the applicant. It is important to note that only certain mediators are qualified to complete the mediator’s section of the court form and it is therefore critical to ensure that the mediator is qualified to do this before booking an intake meeting with a mediator, in order to avoid the risk that you will then be required to instruct a different mediator to conduct a MIAM afterwards. You can check this by clicking the relevant search box on the Family Mediation Council’s “Find a Mediator” webpage: http://www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk/find-local-mediator/
As a mediator, my hope is that, as awareness about both the existence and benefits of family mediation grows, we will eventually reach the stage where the vast majority of people facing family law issues start by considering entering the mediation process, with them initially attending a MIAM with a suitably qualified mediator and then starting the joint mediation process if appropriate, long before matters reach the stage where a court application is considered and where a MIAM becomes compulsory.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you or your client want to know more about MIAMs or about the mediation process in general and thank you for reading this blog post.
Tel: 01483 339379