This is a meeting carried out by an authorised family mediator, at which the mediator provides information about the principles, process and different models of mediation and the alternative ways to find solutions to your problems. MIAMs have been around since the Family Procedure Rules came into force in April 2011 but in practice they have not have not helped to overhaul family law in the way that had been hoped. In April 2014, the law was amended to ensure that the MIAM became a statutory requirement before anyone can make an application to the court for certain financial remedy orders or certain private law applications relating to children, unless a MIAM exemption or a mediator’s exemption applies. However, this has still not had the effect of keeping people out of court, which was the government’s intention.
One of the main reasons why there has been so little use of MIAMs in practice is that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 has seen a 20% increase in cases between 2013 and 2017 where both parties are unrepresented. This now accounts for 34% of all cases. As fewer litigants have access to legal advice, they are not being ‘signposted’ to mediation as they were previously, nor are they aware of the requirements of a MIAM.
Solicitors have also played a part in low MIAM participation figures. Some family solicitors have had little exposure to non-court dispute resolution in practice and cannot offer the flexibility of tailoring the process to meet their client’s specific needs and objectives. Nor do they appreciate the benefits to the clients of doing this for them. Keeping parties out of court remains an ‘alien concept’ to many solicitors, who are still approaching their cases in the traditional way, as they have always done, regardless of the impact on the families involved.
The availability of appropriate mediators is also an issue and it is one of the current exemptions – the litigant is exempt if he/she has contacted at least three mediators (or all of them if there are fewer than three) within a 15 mile radius of their home and none of them is able to offer a MIAM in the next 15 working days. These factors all contribute to the poor MIAM figures and participation in mediation and there needs to be a sea change in all aspects of family practice to resolve the problems and keep more families out of court.