Compulsory mediation becomes a reality in family law proceedings

On 22nd April of this year, Section 10(1) of the Children and Families Act 2014 came into force.  This subsection provides that before making a ‘relevant’ family application a person must attend at a mediation information and assessment meeting (“MIAM”).   This only applies to those applying to the court (Applicants) but Respondents are still expected to attend. 

A MIAM is a meeting providing information about mediation and other alternative ways to resolve matters outside of court and will assess whether that particular case is suitable or not.    The court is now under a positive duty to consider, at every stage in proceedings, whether non-court dispute resolution is appropriate.

The new rules provide that if the court considers that non-court dispute resolution is appropriate, it may direct that the proceedings, or a hearing in the proceedings, be adjourned for such specified period as it considers appropriate to enable the parties to obtain information and advice about non-court dispute resolution and, where the parties agree, to enable non-court dispute resolution to take place. 

These new rules apply to both private children proceedings (including applications for child arrangements orders – formerly Residence and Contact Orders) and financial proceedings.

The requirement to attend at a MIAM will not apply in certain circumstances as follows: –

  • Where there is evidence of domestic violence (the evidence required is defined in Practice Direction 3A of the Family Procedure Rules);
  • Where there are child protection concerns;
  • Where the matter is urgent (the types of urgent application are defined in PD 3A);
  • Previous MIAM attendance (within the past 4 months) or MIAM exemption applies;
  • Other e.g. bankruptcy of lack of contact details.

It remains to be seen whether these changes will bring about the aim of reducing the number of family disputes which end up in court.