At Stowe Family Law Settlements, we regularly receive enquiries and questions from prospective clients about ‘MIAMs’ –Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings. MIAMs were first introduced in April 2011 but they weren’t compulsory back then and referrals to mediation have fallen dramatically since. But from 22 April 2014, if you are considering making an application to the court about your children you will most certainly need to know what they are, who can provide them and if you need to have one before issuing court proceedings (and in most cases you will).You may find the court won’t let you proceed until you have attended one, unless they are satisfied that you do fall within the range of exemptions.
MIAMs: what are they, exactly?
MIAMs are designed to ensure that couples are aware of mediation as a potential way to resolve their problems outside a courtroom.
A MIAM is a meeting with a mediator – or, for Stowe Family Law Settlements clients, a qualified lawyer-mediator – in which the couple is provided with information about the mediation process and the legal framework that applies to their situation. It is a formal assessment of mediation’s suitability for their individual case. The parties can tell their stories, working through discrepancies with the neutral mediator.
The meeting also provides the couple with additional information about funding options and their eligibility for public funding is assessed, ensuring that they receive the most cost-effective advice.
The process provides time for various formalities to be observed where necessary, such as screenings for domestic violence or child abuse issues (either of which could render mediation unsuitable for the parties in question). Whether or not mediation is the most suitable course of action depends on individual circumstances, and the role of the MIAM is simply to measure those circumstances to determine suitability. The earlier that a couple engages in the mediation process by arranging a MIAM, the quicker a resolution may be reached.
MIAMs: who can provide them?
Not every mediator provides them because not every mediator is sufficiently qualified to do so. Only those mediators who fulfil the government’s stringent criteria can provide MIAMs. They must hold specific qualifications and accreditations; belong to a member organisation of the Family Mediation Council; hold professional indemnity insurance; meet certain requirements for continuing professional development; have a professional practice supervisor and be in active practice as a mediator. They must also complete a further, rigorous Family Mediation Council course.
At the time of writing, a relatively small number of law firms are able to provide MIAMs. They include the Stowe Family Law Settlements at all our offices in North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Central London.
MIAMS: do I really need to attend? Is there a get out?
Refusing to attend could involve a refusal to issue proceedings by the court and additionally there are potential costs and sanctions that could be imposed by the court if the process has been ignored. Alternatively, the proceedings could be halted altogether until a MIAM has been completed by the parties.
Certain exemptions do apply. They include the following:
*One party is unwilling to attend a MIAM and consider mediation.
*A mediator has decided that your case would not be suitable for a MIAM.
*An allegation of domestic violence has been made within the last 12 months.
*Any delay caused by attending a MIAM would cause a risk of significant harm to a child, a significant risk of a miscarriage of justice, or unreasonable hardship.
*The whereabouts of your former partner are unknown.
*There is current social services involvement, as a result of child protection concerns.
*You contact three mediators within 15 miles of your home and none is able to conduct a MIAM within 15 working days of the date of contact.
MIAMS: Is family mediation wrong for me?
Mediation isn’t a perfect solution, and it isn’t suitable for everyone. For example, mediation may not secure the best outcome if any of the following situations apply to your case:
*You doubt that your former partner will genuinely cooperate with the process and is simply stringing it out to wear you down.
*Your mediator has insufficient knowledge of what you are entitled to in law.
*Emotions are running so high that reason and compromise are simply not possible. Successful mediation requires voluntary co-operation from both parties.
As Marilyn Stowe has noted in a previous post on this subject:
“It is a pity that such heavy emphasis has been attributed to pre-application assessment [the MIAM], when involvement in mediation is by no means a guarantee of success. [Mediation] can turn out to be a complete waste of time and costs, particularly in financial cases, if insufficient care is paid to obtaining good legal advice and ensuring the assets are fully disclosed and agreed. A client may turn up at his or her solicitor’s office, clutching a draft agreement – only to discover that it isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Then they are back to square one, months down the line, with costs rising.”
MIAMs: Is family law mediation right for me?
The rationale behind the MIAMs is that mediation is often beneficial to couples involved in disagreements – particularly those pertaining to children.
Firstly, it provides the couple with the opportunity to pause and reflect on the nature of their differences. It takes place in a neutral environment with a trained mediator present who can help the couple reach an agreement on their issues.
Mediation can also save a lot of time, stress and the expense and costs of court action, while aiming to leave the relationship of the separated couple as undamaged as possible. This, of course, is particularly important where children are involved.
Mediators come from different backgrounds. Stowe Family Law Settlements, for example, is a specialist family law mediation practice. Although we have mediators on hand, almost all are lawyer-mediators: family lawyers who are also qualified and experienced mediators.
Mediation is less expensive when a couple share between them the cost of the mediator, rather than each having to pay for their own lawyers to negotiate on their behalf. More specific information can also be given regarding the relative value of court proceedings, so the couple is fully informed and can decide what to do next to resolve their differences.
In essence, a MIAM can serve to highlight and explore a couple’s choices in law. You can choose not to mediate after their initial meeting, and instead put it on hold until it may be more useful and after a court has taken a tighter grip of proceedings. Others who have all the information about the mediation process will of course decide that they do want to proceed down this path.
The important point about a MIAM is that it gives you an alternative to going to court and the with good will of both parties the mediation process could turn out to be a worthwhile decision.