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Make MIAMs free, says mediation provider – and I say bring in legal aid for arbitration!

A leading mediation provider has called for the government to make MIAMs free.

Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) were introduced to make more couples going through a divorce aware of mediation in order to reduce the number of people going through the family courts.

They were originally an optional part of the divorce process, but the government made them compulsory in April 2014. Lawyers who provide MIAMs do so for a fee which varies from firm to firm.

Despite the government’s efforts, figures recently released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) showed a substantial drop in mediation cases last year.

National Family Mediation (NFM) has said something needs to be done to reverse the “embarrassing” decline in couples seeking mediation since the legal aid cuts came into effect.

The organisation said that since the initial meetings are compulsory, they should be available for free.

Jane Robey, NFM’s chief executive, said despite the government’s claim that they want more people to use mediation, “its policies of the past two years have achieved precisely the opposite”.

She added that there has been a huge increase in the number of people who are representing themselves in court since the legal aid cuts and a “collapse” in the number choosing mediation.

Let’s face facts, shall we? As I have said since I trained as a mediator in 1995: the public are simply not engaged by mediation. Perhaps it is too ‘touchy-feely’ and it has no teeth. No one can be compelled to cooperate or give financial disclosure. Perhaps couples can spend money on it and walk away without a result.

My colleagues here at Stowe Family Law do not agree – they are committed mediators and point to their demonstrably successful outcomes with couples who do see eye to eye and want to resolve their issues amicably.

Those couples are still a minority and, overall, the problem remains. It could be because they are asked to engage in the mediation process much too soon, when both are too raw to try and attempt an amicable settlement.

To me, the answer is rather simple: try something else. Either bring back legal aid for the family court using a cost effective formula that provides for costs recovery, and/or make legal aid available not only for mediation, but for arbitration.

The government continues to push mediation as the only alternative to going through the courts, yet, arbitration guarantees an outcome. Once couples agree to engage in that process, they cannot back out. There will be an award come what may and it will be enforced by the courts.

The process can be done faster and cheaper than incurring two sets of fees in court where the assets and incomes involved are not complex.

But there is a problem: there are cases which will need legal aid in order for arbitration to be suitable, such as where the house will not be sold but a legal aid statutory charge could be applied to the property to ensure the costs are at some point repaid – with an appropriate rate of interest of course.

One thing we can all agree on in the meantime is that the status quo just won’t do.

If all the government is going to do is fix sticky plasters over the gaping wound, rather than surgery, that is all we will have to look forward to for years to come. Rather like the CSA… and we all know what happened there.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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