Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Government divorce policy is 'failing', new figures show

Government divorce policy is 'failing', new figures show


Divorcing couples shun 'compulsory' mediation meetings and head straight to court

A government policy aimed at promoting family mediation as the preferred way of settling disputes over parenting, finance, and property has failed, new figures show.

Under the the Children and Families Act, April 2014 saw mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs) become compulsory before a separating couple could apply for a court order in divorce proceedings.

The government's aim was to introduce a cheaper and less confrontational alternative to the courts.

However, as the second anniversary of the change approaches, new figures obtained by a Freedom of Information request show that fewer than 5,000 MIAMs out of over 112,000 private law applications were completed.

The Ministry of Justice figures for 2014/15 mean that only one in 20 applications for private law proceedings to a family court followed the 'compulsory' route.

The figures do show an increase, however. In 2014, some 849 completed MIAMs were recorded out of a total of 55,381 applications.

In the first three quarters of 2015, some 3,510 completed MIAMs were recorded out of a total of 56,551 applications.

Commenting on the findings from National Family Mediation, Jane Robey, the organisation's chief executive, said that, with fewer than one in 20 couples attending MIAMs, 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.

'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,' she continued. 'That does not appear to be the case.'

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: 'We want disputes resolved out of court wherever possible, with approaches such as family mediation being less stressful, quicker, and cheaper.

'We have taken measures to improve the number of parties attending mediation assessment meetings and how this is recorded by the courts.

'This is shown by applicants attending mediation assessment meetings in 47 per cent of cases involving children between May and September 2015.'