Four out of five separating couples are ignoring law on divorce

Jane Robey
It will be 2022 before a flagship government divorce law introduced in 2014 becomes effective, a national family charity has found after it obtained data exposing the embarrassing failure of a policy aimed at promoting amicable dispute resolution.

Only one in five separating couples abide by a new law which makes the consideration of mediation compulsory.

National Family Mediation (NFM) says all is not lost, but that Ministers must listen to dispute resolution experts whose everyday work with separating couples means they’re perfectly placed to help government achieve its objectives.

April 2014 saw a law change making attendance at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) 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 that according to latest figures over two years on, only a fifth of separating couples making court applications undertake a MIAM.

“The government’s aim was to introduce a less confrontational alternative to court, but the huge majority are ignoring the law,” says Jane Robey, CEO of National Family Mediation.

“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.

“Ministers need to address this embarrassing failure by listening to mediation professionals who can advise on turning things around.

“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.”

Fewer than 4,000 MIAMs were undertaken out of nearly 18,000 private law applications in the first quarter of 2016, the latest figures available. The 22 per cent take-up rate represents an improvement on past figures (it was 7 per cent in 2015).

“Mediators welcomed the law change requiring couples to explore alternatives to the combat of court proceedings. We knew it could not transform the culture of divorce on its own, but these figures suggest the government is on the slow road,” adds Jane Robey.

“Mediators can help accelerate the process, and a few simple steps could help Ministers 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.

“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 that more mediation is provided.”

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.

The data from the full response can be seen here.