New government measures have resulted in a significant slowdown in the growth of family mediation, a popular form of dispute resolution which avoids much of the acrimony, expense and delay associated with traditional court proceedings.
In April, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into effect meaning that legal aid (public funding) was cut significantly by the coalition government with over 250,000 private law cases suddenly falling outside the scope of public funding. Despite the funds this freed up, only £10m extra was directed towards family mediation. In 2011 the pre-action protocol was introduced dictating that those receiving public funding for divorce must attend mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAM) before they can apply to court for the resolution of child or finance related issues and those who fund divorce privately are expected to do the same.
One may assume that this protocol would lead to higher numbers of mediation cases but the opposite happened. There were far fewer mediation cases in April, May and June and many specialist family mediators reported falls of over 60% in their monthly pay packets.
The government has also been accused of failing to make the public aware of the advantages offered by family mediation. Aside from a short YouTube video about mediation, little effort was made to promote it. Whilst the huge cuts to legal aid have been well-publicised, little is known about family mediation and many assumed that public funding had been withdrawn in this area as well.
A major issue for family mediators is that the rules surrounding MIAMs are not properly understood and often not properly enforced. For the past 2 years, protocol has dictated that it is ‘expected’ that those who are privately funding family law cases will attend a MIAM. However, by failing to make this compulsory, couples have been able to completely overlook family mediation, instead going on to clog up the court system with lengthy and expensive disputes. Furthermore, FM1 forms – which register the attendance of a couple or detail why they did not attend – are often not filled out and presented alongside the court application as is the legal requirement. Indeed, in order for the protocol to work, the courts need to enforce the rules more rigidly and ensure that applications are not granted if forms are not submitted or valid reasons are not given for not attending MIAMs.
The situation may improve because the incoming Children and Families Bill will make it a legal requirement for all couples to attend MIAMs. Unfortunately, this act is not due to come into force until spring 2014.
Nearly 100,000 people receiving public funding have made use of family mediation for the resolution of their family disputes in the last half a decade. Whilst there are no figures for the number of qualified mediators, one can only hope that individuals will not be put off training for their qualifications due to the recent struggles of mediators.
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Although family mediation has not been as widely used in recent months as family lawyers expected, it is nevertheless a highly effective form of dispute resolution which is generally faster and less acrimonious than traditional court divorce. For more advice on family mediation from family law experts, call:
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