Section 10(1) of the Children and Families Act 2014 makes key changes to how applications to Court for private children issues and for financial remedy following divorce/civil partnership breakdown should be dealt with.
The Government has formally recognised that the adversarial court process is not always best suited to the resolution of family related issues, be those relating to children and/or financial provision following relationship breakdown.
As part of a series of changes coming into force on April 22nd 2014 anyone intending to issue an application to Court to determine practical arrangements for the care of the children (where children should live and how often they should see the other party), financial provision for children or for themselves MUST save for very defined strict exemption criteria attend at a Mediation Information and Assessment Appointment (“MIAMS”) prior to issuing Court proceedings.
The Court forms have changed and either a specially trained family mediator must sign the form to confirm that the applicant to Court has attended at a MIAMS or one of the mediator exemptions applies, or if the applicant is seeking an exemption then either they or their solicitor must certify that an exemption applies. (The exemption criteria which are tightly drafted are set out in the new practice direction 3A of the Family Procedure Rules)
If an exemption is sought (other than one signed off by an accredited mediator) the Court will enquire as to the validity of the exemption at the first hearing and has the power to direct one or both parties attend at a MIAMS appointment, adjourning proceedings to ensure that this happens.
Referrals to family mediation suffered following the abolition of legal aid for huge swathes of family work in April 2013 with many separating parties being unable to afford legal representation and instead propelling themselves into the Court arena.
Legal aid continues to be available for family mediation for those who meet the financial eligibility criteria. Furthermore for those parties who qualify for legal aid then providing that they attend one substantive family mediation session then they will also be entitled to free legal advice from a solicitor to support them within the mediation process.
The new legal changes aim to cement family mediation as a key and vital component in the resolution of issues between parents/ guardians concerning their children and separating parties trying to sort out financial issues.
The huge and unmatched benefit of family mediation is that parties retain control over key decisions affecting their future as opposed to handing those decisions over to Judges/Magistrates within an adversarial Court process, which particularly where children are concerned, tends to polarise parents as opposed to equipping them with the skills to be able to effectively parent going forward through a workable level of co-operation with the other party.
At My Mediation we are able to offer family mediation to privately paying parties and for parties who qualify for legal aid through our mediation franchise with the Legal Aid Agency. If you would like any further information please contact us online here or by calling 0113 320 2288.