A leading family lawyer has called for more government and judicial support to encourage separating couples to resolve disputes out of court.
Jo Edwards, vice-chair of family lawyers’ group Resolution, made the plea following a survey that showed a lack of awareness among the public of non-court options for dealing with family law matters.
The Resolution poll of 2,018 adults – conducted to mark the first Family Dispute Resolution Week – showed that nearly half (45%) thought most divorces involve a visit to court, while 40% believed divorce can never happen without conflict. Edwards said family lawyers are trying to help promote alternative dispute resolution, but more support is needed from government and judges.
She called for renewed efforts to ensure mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAM) are not circumvented: ‘At the moment, attendance at a MIAM session is not mandatory; all that is expected is that a party looking to lodge an application will fill in a form indicating whether or not they have attended a session.’
Edwards said some lawyers are ‘getting round the forms’, either by lodging an excuse for why the party could not attend a session, or by not returning the form.
She said court staff should be told parties are required to have completed the form, and that judges at the first hearing should use their power to adjourn where mediation has not been explored.
Judges should be able to make adverse costs orders against a party who has unreasonably refused to attend a MIAM, she added.