Qualitative research into MIAMs and mediation in private law family disputes

The qualitative survey involved mediation practitioners with LAA contracts, who were prepared to provide information about their privately funded clients, and also a court file review of 300 cases (150 private law children and 150 contested finance cases). In 17 of the court cases (6%) it was clear that mediation or collaborative law had been attempted before proceedings were started.

Acknowledging that the survey provides only a crude estimate of privately funded MIAM to mediation conversion, as in many cases the mediation practitioners involved in the survey did not yet know whether the case would convert, the quantitative survey suggests an overall conversion rate of 66–76%. This supports the general direction of the qualitative findings produced at the end of last year. It also indicates that conversion is less likely when couples attend MIAMs separately, and among younger clients. For mediations, the survey suggests that full or partial agreement was reached in over two-thirds (68%) of cases. Although this figure is subject to a degree of speculation (as in many cases the outcome of mediation was not yet known) it is consistent with data from other sources in respect of publicly funded clients.

Overall levels of MIAMs and mediation activity could be categorised into three main groups. The first involved attempts at mediation or collaborative law, and/or attendance at MIAMs (22%). The second comprised cases where applicants did not attend MIAMs or it was unclear if they did, but exemptions were or could clearly have been claimed (41%). The third group comprised cases in which applicants did not attend MIAMs or it was unclear whether they did, and non-attendance was not explained by the claiming or clear availability of an exemption (37%).

Applicants who were legally represented had attended MIAMs and/or attempted mediation before starting proceedings more often than those who were litigants in person (i.e. who represented themselves). Among represented applicants, there did not appear to be any difference in rates of MIAMs or mediation activity according to whether they had legal aid or paid privately. Applicants in children cases appeared to attend MIAMs or attempt mediation less often than in finance cases. However, applicants in children cases could have or did claim exemptions in 53% of cases, compared to 29% for finance cases.

Children cases tended to involve young children, and younger parents – of whom a minority appeared to be spouses or former spouses. In many cases the circumstances suggested that proceedings were brought some time after separation. Features which might add to complexity, raise levels of potential conflict and/or raise safeguarding issues were indicated in 85% of children cases. These included domestic violence, concerns regarding one or more party’s suitability to care for the children, and a history of social services involvement.

Finance cases tended to involve older parties, and often long marriages. They also often involved features which appeared to indicate complexity and/or conflict, including disputes over the assets available for division and lack of trust between the parties.

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