Our latest article in the Midweek Herald is about Mediation and the recent changes to Family Law

Below is our forthcoming article in East Devon’s Midweek Herald Newspaper. I like the Midweek Herald which covers Honiton, Axminster, Seaton, Ottery St Mary, Beer and Sidmouth. I have been a regular reader since we moved to East Devon 15 years ago. I have reproduced the article in full, but its also below as a pdf of the proof;  Midweek Herald May 2014  In the pdf version it also has colour and pictures.

All Change for Family Law

April 2014 has seen big changes in how disputes between separating partners and about children should be dealt with. These include the introduction of a Unified Family Court; the abolition of Residence and Contact Orders (Child Arrangements Orders instead) and a greater expectation that couples should resolve their disputes out of Court with the assistance of a professional mediator.

Is Family Mediation now compulsory?

It is now a Legal requirement that a person who wishes to make an application to the Court about a family matter must (unless a limited exemption applies) meet with an approved Mediator to consider Mediation before they can apply to the Court. The other party will also be expected to meet with the Mediator. Failure to do so could lead to a costs order being made against them. The preliminary meeting to consider family mediation (called a MIAM) is compulsory. In most cases it is expected that mediation will follow.

What is Family Mediation?

It is assisted negotiation. A couple will meet with an independent mediator who will assist them to discuss and resolve the issues that they wish to resolve. The discussions are confidential. The mediator will want to make sure that meetings are focused and both are able to put their point of view. There are often several meetings. In financial cases, both must give full financial disclosure. The mediator will help the couple to concentrate on the issues, to listen to each other and to make informed decisions.

What is a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting or MIAM?

The Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting or MIAM is a preliminary meeting with each person (I always undertake them separately) to allow each of the couple to find out more and for the mediator to assess suitability. Both will usually be willing to start mediation after these meetings have taken place and this is an important step toward finding solutions.

An experienced Mediator can make a big difference

The Mediator’s use of their skills can be quite subtle. Both need to have confidence in the Mediator. Experience can make a considerable difference to the prospects of success.

Only approved Mediators can undertake MIAM meetings. To qualify the mediator has to demonstrate a certain level of experience. This is however below the standard to achieve accreditation. I myself achieved the then equivalent standard in 2000. I was amongst the first 20 Mediators to achieve the Accreditation standard with the Family Solicitors organisation Resolution in 2002 and am currently accredited by the Law Society. I have also sat on the Governing Board of the Family Mediators Association (FMA) and I supervise other Mediators. My Service has been audited by the Legal Aid Agency and has been awarded their Mediation Quality Mark.

Mediation and Legal Rights and Fairness

Mediation is about making informed decisions. This includes understanding what your legal rights are and what a Court might or might not do. When I am mediating I cannot give advice, but I can give information to both. I can also make sure both ask their Solicitors the right questions at the right time, so they get best advice and best value. As a Solicitor, I usually refer to other Mediators, who are either practicing or former Solicitors. This is so I have confidence that they will refer my clients back to me when advice is needed.

Legal Aid is still available

Means tested Legal Aid is still widely available for Family Mediation. If one person is financially eligible, the Legal Aid Agency will provide a FREE MIAM to both of the couple. The evidence requirements to qualify are stringent, but if someone qualifies, the whole of the Mediation is FREE for them and they should also be able to access Legal Aid for FREE Legal Advice in support of Mediation.

Cheaper and better than arguing in Court

Even if you don’t qualify for Legal Aid, the cost of a successful mediation is much less than a long draw out Court process and outcomes in my long experience of both Court and Mediation are usually better. Most importantly, parents are usually better able to get on with each other which is better for their children.

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