As the second anniversary of a landmark divorce law change approaches, new figures obtained by a leading family charity show government policy aimed at promoting mediation as the preferred way of settling disputes over parenting, finance and property has failed.
On 22 April 2014, a law change made attendance at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) compulsory before a separating couple could apply for a court order in divorce proceedings.
But figures obtained by a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice show that, in 2014/15, only 1 in 20 applications for private law proceedings to a family court followed the new 'compulsory' route - fewer than 5,000 MIAMs out of over 112,000 private law applications.
National Family Mediation has discovered the figures. Its Chief Executive, Jane Robey, says:
'By requiring separating couples to attend a mediation awareness meeting, the government's aim was to introduce a cheaper and less confrontational alternative to court. But with fewer than 1 in 20 of couples even attending the initial meeting, let alone following that route through to its conclusion, the law has failed.
We genuinely welcomed the law change requiring couples to explore mediation as an alternative to combative court proceedings. We knew it could not transform the culture of divorce on its own, but these figures suggest even this small government step has flopped.
National Family Mediation and the mediation community alone cannot change the entrenched culture of adversarial and expensive court proceedings in divorce cases. More government support is needed to inform, educate and publicise the fact that MIAMs are compulsory in order to ensure the law is properly enforced and much more mediation is delivered.
It's not just that this is a law; the truth is that settlements negotiated through mediation offer a brighter future for separating families up and down the land.
And, given the well-publicised crisis of the clogged up family courts, one would think judges would have welcomed the changes and exercised their powers to take best advantage of the changes. That does not appear to be the case.'
The 'traditional' route for divorce sees a solicitor's office and the court room as the first stop for separating couples looking to make arrangements over property, finance and children. Mediation enables and empowers families to take control over their own destiny, rather than handing it over to a family court judge.
National Family Mediation's expert professionals help separating couples agree settlements on property, finance and parenting issues without the need for a courtroom drama. They achieve full agreement in over 80% of cases.