April saw the introduction of the much anticipated Children and Families Act 2014. Section 10 of the act now governs how applications to court for private children issues and financial applications following divorce and breakdown of civil partnerships are to be dealt with. As a result of these changes any individual wishing to issue an application to court in relation to children or for financial provision, except for very strict exceptions, attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) prior to issuing at court.
The notion of considering Mediation is not a new one. However the previous Family Procedure Rules and Pre–application protocol provided only for an expectation (the wording used being “should”) that the parties would attend a MIAM before issuing any application to court. Court staff processing new applications have now been directed to refuse applications where this requirement has not been met. In addition, the District Judges and Magistrates hearing the application will also enforce the requirement and will have the power to adjourn the proceedings to ensure the parties attend a MIAM appointment before allowing the application to proceed.
The aim of the new changes, whilst also attempting to reduce the number of private family applications going through the court process, is to try and encourage the parties involved to attempt to resolve the issues between themselves, and by doing so, retaining control over key decisions affecting their future. The relationship between the parties is often much better after Mediation as opposed to court action as the court process is, by its very nature, an adversarial process, whereas Mediation is based on negotiation and finding a solution that works well for both parties.