Has the number of private law children or financial remedy court cases dropped over the last year?
On 6 April 2011 rules came into force requiring divorcing couples to attend an information meeting about mediation and other alternatives to court action -before issuing financial remedy or private law children proceedings.
To what extent have they been successful in diverting family cases away from the courts? Well, the picture emerging appears unclear.
Resolution commissioned a survey, which found that:
- Court staff have not regarded it as mandatory that a party issuing an application should show evidence of having attended a MIAM. Only 56% of respondents to the survey said that courts asked about this when they applied to issue. One snapshot showed that in the Principal Registry in London, only 20% of applications were accompanied by evidence of attendance at a MIAM.
- Rule 3.2 states that judges “must consider, at every stage in proceedings, whether alternative dispute resolution is appropriate”. Yet 78% of respondents said that their local courts hadn’t asked about this.
- 20% of solicitors who responded had only referred 0-10 % of their clients to a MIAM, whilst 30% said they had referred the majority of their clients (91-100%) to a MIAM.
- 89% of respondents reported that 0- 10% of their clients had self-referred to a MIAM.
- It appears that courts in different regions are interpreting the rules in different ways.
Respondents’ feelings about MIAMs were clearly mixed. Some reported a higher level of mediation as a result of increased awareness. Many made the point that mediator or collaborative lawyers spot the cases needing a judge and consider a MIAM to be a fruitless additional hurdle. Others spoke of concerns about the cost of a MIAM.
The Ministry of Justice has seen an increase in MIAMs compared with assessment meetings. Judge’s statistics are being checked to see if there is a decrease in applications coming before courts, and at what stage they are being compromised. In the Principal Registry, a 6 per cent drop in private law cases has been reported since April 2011.
The blogger has found MIAMs to be really useful on two levels. In some cases they have resolved all or some of the issues without the need for a court decision. In others they have helped to ease the adversarial nature of subsequent proceedings (especially in children cases), and softened the parties’ expectations of the court process.
Within a decade, the culture of family litigation is likely to change. MIAMs are starting to play a part in this. In almost every case there is something that can be agreed, and reaching some consensus oils the wheels for more collaboration between warring parties.