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New figures show failure of government divorce policy

13th Apr 2016

New figures show that a government policy aimed at promoting family mediation as a way way of settling disputes over parenting, finance, and property has failed.

In April 2014, under the Children and Families Act, mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs) became compulsory before a separating couple could apply for a court order in divorce proceedings in order to introduce a cheaper and less confrontational alternative to the courts.

However, new figures obtained by a Freedom of Information request have shown that less than 5,000 MIAMs out of over 112,000 private law applications were completed in 2014/15. This means that only one in 20 applications for private law proceedings to a family court followed the “compulsory” route.

However, the figures show an increase of completed MIAMs: In 2014, some 849 completed MIAMs were recorded out of a total of 55,381 applications, whilst in the first three quarters of 2015, there were 3,510 completed MIAMs recorded out of 56,551 applications.

Commenting on the findings, Jane Robey, the chief executive of National Family Mediation,  said that the law has failed.

“We genuinely welcomed the law change requiring couples to explore mediation as an alternative to combative court proceedings,” she said. “We knew it could not transform the culture of divorce on its own, but these figures suggest even this small government step has flopped.”

Robey added that the mediation community alone cannot change the “entrenched culture of adversarial and expensive court proceedings” in divorce cases, arguing that more government support was needed to ensure the law was properly enforced.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said that “We want disputes resolved out of court wherever possible, with approaches such as family mediation being less stressful, quicker, and cheaper” and that they “have taken measures to improve the number of parties attending mediation assessment meetings and how this is recorded by the courts.”

The success of these measures is “shown by applicants attending mediation assessment meetings in 47% of cases involving children between May and September 2015,” the spokesperson noted.