From April 2014 the government has now made it a compulsory requirement that parties must attend an initial mediation awareness meeting before an application can be made to the courts for a family order.
Only in very specific circumstances can a party be exempt from this requirement. The government by making this requirement clearly hoped that this would encourage mediation, resulting in more cases being resolved through mediation and consequently releasing some of the burden from the family courts which undoubtedly increased following the legal aid cuts which took place in April 2013. Unfortunately although well intended, this has not occurred and instead there has been a collapse of the number of people using mediation over the last twelve months. Indeed in 2012 to 2013 a total of 30,662 mediation assessments were carried out compared to a decreased figure of 13,354 in 2013 to 2014.
This decrease could be for a number of reasons however in practice it can be seen that the initial MIAM fee which is usually in the region of £95.00 has to be paid by a party for the initial assessment meeting to take place. Although in certain circumstances this will be refunded to a party if the mediator subsequently assesses that they are eligible for help with mediation, in reality many individuals specifically those on a limited income are able to afford the initial referral fee and they then find themselves in an untenable position as they are unable to make an application to the court without attending a MIAM appointment but cannot afford to even attempt the mediation process. Clearly this has not panned out how the government wanted and there are therefore calls by government figures to make all MIAM appointments free in the hope that this reverses the trend of the last 12 months, makes mediation more accessible to all parties and takes some of the burden away from the family courts which was the governments original intention.
We shall have to wait to see whether this indeed occurs.
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