Family breakdown is so often a disorienting experience. Clients often say ‘I have never done this before’ and can feel overwhelmed by the legal terms and procedures at a time when they are preoccupied with how they are going to stretch the finances that ran one joint household to running two separate homes or sort out arrangements for children.
We understand that it is a lot of information to take in. That is why for many separating couples, a first individual meeting with a mediator, known as a MIAM or an initial assessment meeting, can be an invaluable informal space where an impartial third-party demystifies the processes, including talking you through potential dispute resolution options and, if Mediation is felt to be the best way forward for you, help prepare you for mediation.
MIAM stands for Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. It is a 1:1 meeting where a specialist family mediator informs you about Mediation and other forms of family dispute resolution, explaining the pros and cons of each process option and determine if Mediation is right for you and your family. It gives you the relevant background information you need to consider if your matter can be resolved outside of Court. The mediator will also set out the basic information such as the cost of Mediation and the length of a typical session.
Before issuing proceedings at family Court, it is a legal requirement (with some exemptions such as urgency and domestic violence) to attend a statutory MIAM with an accredited mediator. Rather than seeing this as a burdensome hoop to jump through, a MIAM is a significant meeting which enables you to determine if there is a kinder and more cost-effective way of seeking a solution than Court.
Prior to the MIAM, you will fill out a Preliminary Information Form setting out your specific circumstances and concerns. At the meeting, your mediator will discuss your situation and provide a relaxed environment to share your situation and talk about what is important to you and any worries you may have.
A mediator cannot give legal advice but will be able to provide you with relevant factual information about the legal procedures. They can provide information to help with issues that arise from family breakdown – such as how children are affected by separation – and signpost helpful websites and resources regarding matters such as government benefits or tackling debt. A mediator will highlight when you need to seek legal advice and what areas you need to discuss with a lawyer or other professional.
In deciding whether to mediate, a MIAM is integral in laying the groundwork for a successful first joint Mediation session with your former partner. MIAMs are confidential, and you can ask your mediator questions you would feel self-conscious asking in front of the other party.
Once you and your former partner agree to mediate, a mediator cannot hold confidences between the parties, but a mediator would let you know and agree with you at your MIAM what information would need to be shared and the best way to disclose that information to the other party.
MIAMs help you and the mediator clarify your priorities and what you hope to achieve. Your mediator will discuss any special needs you may have and determine if you need any additional support ahead of your first joint meeting. You can share any anxieties you may have about being in the same room (or in Covid times, Zoom meeting) as your former partner and what can be done to make that easier for you. It affords you the opportunity to tell your mediator sensitive issues that may be inflammatory so that they can consider how to approach those issues in a way that reduces conflict.
It is important that you feel comfortable before your first joint meeting, and a MIAM lets the mediator get to know you, and in turn, enables you to get to know your mediator so you can see if they are the right fit for you.
MIAM’s have an important screening role to play. There may be legitimate worries about meeting with a former partner in Mediation. If there is a history of abuse or coercive control, then your mediator will be able to assess if these safeguarding issues make Mediation unsuitable.
A mediator will not take sides and will not allow one party to bully the other. An individual MIAM, therefore, enables a mediator to determine if the dynamic between a former couple is such that they think both parties have the self-assurance and confidence to be able to negotiate on an even footing.
MIAMs are valuable because they can shift the frame of reference away from Court, which is the process option people are most aware of through sensationalised news stories and dramatic depictions of divorce in films and TV and lets couples know that other options are possible. During the MIAM, a mediator will walk you through the various different process methods available for finding solutions to family disputes, such as Collaborative Law, Arbitration, Private FDRs, Solicitor-negotiation, and of course, Mediation.
A mediator will explain that their role is to help facilitate a dialogue between parties who are having difficulty communicating and that unlike the Court process, Mediation will allow them to make their own decisions which they think are best for themselves and their children.
A January 2020 survey conducted by the Family Mediation Counsel found that in circumstances where both of the parties separating go to see a mediator for an initial assessment meeting/MIAM, three quarters choose to go on to mediate.
Upon learning that mediation is quicker (especially in light of the strain on the Courts in the face of Covid), almost always less stressful, and less expensive than Court proceedings, it is little surprise that so many people find a MIAM to be a conversation worth having.
All our specialist family mediators can provide online MIAMs in line with Covid guidance. If you would like to find out more information or arrange a MIAM Please get in touch.