Four out of five couples ignore divorce law

Four out of five couples ignore divorce law


MIAMs will not be effective until 2022, suggesting an ‘embarrassing failure' of government policy

Only one in five separating couples abide by the law making the consideration of mediation in divorce cases compulsory, embarrassing new figures have revealed.

A statistical analysis of the figures, obtained by National Family Mediation, suggests the law on mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs) will not become fully effective for another six years.

In April 2014, attendance at a MIAM became compulsory before a separating couple could apply for a court order in divorce proceedings. But data from a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Justice shows only one-fifth of separating couples making court applications undertake a MIAM first.

‘The government’s aim was to introduce a less confrontational alternative to court, but the huge majority are ignoring the law,’ said Jane Robey, CEO of NFM. ‘It’s a shocking government failure. Things are slowly improving but at this rate it will be 2022 before this 2014 policy is actually in place and being properly complied with.’

Robey called on ministers to address this ‘embarrassing failure’ by listening to mediation professionals: ‘This is about so much more than government failure. It’s about the future of tens of thousands of families who could be using mediation to shape a bright future beyond divorce or separation: one that that doesn’t involve years of conflict and court room battles.’

Some 3,855 MIAMs were undertaken out of 17,548 private law applications in the first quarter of 2016. The 22 per cent take-up rate represents an improvement on previous years’ figures.

In 2014, the first year of their introduction, 848 MIAMs from 55,381 applications were made, a take-up rate averaging at 1.5 per cent. In 2015, 5,407 MIAMs from 75,654 applications were recorded, a take-up rate of just 7 per cent. While the numbers are rising, the rate of increase of 15 percentage points per year would only see MIAM take-up become 100 per cent in 2022.

‘We knew it could not transform the culture of divorce on its own, but these figures suggest the government is on the slow road,’ added Robey. ‘Mediators can help accelerate the process, and a few simple steps could help mMinisters address their current red faces.

‘For example, they could be doing much more to ensure family judges embrace mediation as a way forward when warring couples come before them in the courts. Judges already have considerable powers to direct people to alternative means of settling disputes.’

Robey also called on more government support to inform the public that MIAMs are compulsory and ensure the law is properly enforced.

Official figures released by the MoJ in September showed the number of MIAMs between one or both parties and a mediator was down by 12 per cent in the last quarter of 2016 compared to the same period of the previous year and around half of pre-LASPO levels. The number of starts also fell by 15 per cent.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor at Solicitors Journal | @JvdLD