Family law solicitors Coles Miller are preparing for new rules which will require those seeking court orders in children and financial cases to attend Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs).
The new rules will come into force later this month. Couples who attempt to go straight to court will be redirected to mediation information meetings.
Similar rules were introduced several years ago in a bid to make separation less stressful and to ease the pressure on Britain’s overburdened family courts, suggesting that couples attend MIAMs.
But despite increased pressure from the government, significant numbers of separated couples and their solicitors continued to ignore the mediation route - hence the new ruling.
During a MIAM, a mediator explains all the alternatives to the court route, including mediation but also other options such as:
- Collaborative law - lawyers on the two sides work together to reach a solution; the couple legally commit not to go to court
- Round the table - similar to collaborative law; the lawyers work together (but the couple can still go to court if need be)
- Direct negotiations - sometimes known as ‘kitchen table negotiations’; the couple sit down and work out how to split up without bringing in solicitors
- Arbitration - couples commit to abiding by the decision of the arbitrator; this can be more expensive because the arbitrator must be paid as well as the solicitors.
From April 22, virtually every separated couple wishing to make a court application for children and/or financial issues will be expected to attend a MIAM, meaning a big increase in mediation work for Coles Miller’s highly experienced family team.
Coles Miller Partner Emma Hamilton Cole, a solicitor and mediator who leads the firm’s family law department, said: “Nobody will ever be forced into mediation if they do not want it.
“But they will at least have to hear about mediation and the benefits that it can offer - so the new rules are very good and we welcome them,” she added.
Opting for mediation can help to make disputes relating to children and finances quicker, less painful and less expensive to resolve for all concerned.
“Mediation works for most people and it’s better for the children because their parents are dealing with things in a much more conciliatory way and keeping the stress down at home,” said Ms Hamilton Cole.
“Also, mediation can be fixed for a timeframe which suits the parents and the children - not one which is imposed by the court.
“Going to court means you are handing over control. The decision-making is legally given to the court as opposed to mediation in which control is retained by the separating parties,” she added.
The suitability of mediation is assessed on an individual basis and so it’s not possible for all separated couples. Domestic abuse is not a complete bar, however.
Coles Miller will be hosting a seminar for family law solicitors and mediators on April 15 (2pm-5pm) at the Hallmark Hotel in Bournemouth.
The speaker will be solicitor advocate David Burrows, a leading author and trainer in family law.
Coles Miller LLP is based in Dorset with five offices in Bournemouth, Poole, Broadstone, Charminster and Wimborne.
The family department offers a wide range of legal services to help couples separating and divorcing, including collaborative law, mediation, injunctions and change of name.
For expert advice on family law, contact divorce solicitor and mediator Emma Hamilton Cole, 01202 694891.