On the 22nd of April the law concerning divorce underwent what was probably the greatest change in a generation. On that day most of the provisions of the Children and Families Act came into force, heralding significant changes to almost all areas of family law.
Family Justice System
The Act was drawn up following an independent review carried out in 2011 by a committee chaired by David Norgrove. The Committee found that the existing system was disjointed and slow, and that it did not serve the needs of those involved, particularly of children. Significant changes to the structure of the courts were recommended which would streamline the system and allow it to function in a more joined up manner.
In private family law – that of divorce and separation – the Committee recognised that the existing system was too adversarial and based too heavily on lengthy, acrimonious and expensive court battles. Their solution was to recommend that couples be required to consider mediation as an alternative to court when resolving financial issues and the future arrangements for children.
Family Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings – MIAMs
The recommendation that separating couples be required to attend a mediation information session was adopted by the Government and found its way to Section 10 of the Children and Families Act 2014. The section provides that:
“Before making a relevant family application, a person must attend a family mediation and assessment meeting”
These ‘relevant’ family applications cover almost all the common applications made to the courts which relate either to the arrangements for children following the separation or for financial settlements. It was not the intention of the drafters to make mediation itself compulsory, but rather that the separating couple should have all the information about alternatives to protracted and expensive court battles explained, and have the opportunity to discuss the option of mediation. Should mediation be appropriate – and it is not always the right choice – those involved can capitalise on the quicker, less confrontational, more cooperative and cheaper option for resolving the dispute.