Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) 2019 Guide [FREE]

Introduction

You are probably reading this either because you are starting the mediation process between you and your ex-partner and will be attending your MIAM, or because your ex-partner has already done this and you have now been invited to one. Mediation often comes at a very stressful time for both parties and the thought of attending an ‘official’ meeting can raise tension levels even more. It is important to remember though that throughout the whole mediation process, the mediator is completely impartial. They don’t take sides; no-one will be judging you and mediation is not about one side ‘winning’ and the other side ‘losing’. The MIAM meeting is the starting point where you will be able to talk with a mediator about the situation you are in and to see if mediation could help you and your family.

Meetings usually last between 45 minutes and an hour. It depends how much you need to explain and how many areas of disagreement there are with your ex-partner. Some people need mediation just to resolve a single issue, others have much more complex child and financial arrangements to sort out.

The MIAM can be in person or online, e.g using WhatsApp (which is encrypted and therefore safe to use). We can usually arrange online MIAM appointments much quicker, as it can often take a week or two to get suitable office space to hold a face-to-face meeting. This is the main reason why people often prefer their MIAM to be done online. We can usually offer clients who are paying privately an appointment within a few days – sometimes even on the same day. Legal Aid funded clients can also have this service of course, but the Legal Aid assessment process, which has to be completed before the MIAM, usually takes around 10 working days.

So, who are the mediators? All Direct Mediation Services mediators are registered with the Family Mediation Council and are also members of a professional organisation, such as the College of Mediators. We never work with mediators who are not registered because we believe you deserve to have the peace of mind that you are dealing with the very best.

What happens in a MIAM?

The most important point is that MIAMs are confidential. What you say to the mediator in this meeting will go no further. The mediator would never tell your ex-partner, the courts or any other legal professional what you have said, even if they are asked. Your conversation with the mediator is “Legally Privileged” to the same standard as if you were talking to your solicitor. This is very important so you can be confident you can speak openly about what has been happening and know that it will stay confidential. There are only two exceptions, which the mediator will tell you at the beginning of the mediation session. The first one is if you admit to the mediator that you have committed a criminal act; the second one is if the mediator believes you or someone in your family are at personal risk. The mediator won’t involve any agencies without you knowing about it, they will explain their reasons to you beforehand and what they will do, so that you understand why they have to take action.

At the start of the MIAM, the mediator will introduce themselves. Don’t worry that you will be faced with a long uncomfortable silence that you have to fill with your whole life story! The mediator will take you through a structured process and will ask you specific questions. You will have plenty of time at the end of the session to speak about any other things that you think are important or if you feel that something has been missed out.

Of course, we will have to collect some personal data from you and your mediator will explain to you how our mediating firm manages and uses your data and our commitment to Data Protection regulations – the GDPR. You can see more information about our data protection policy on our website under “Policies”.

First, we need to know about you. We will ask for your first name, middle name (if you have one) and surname and what name you prefer to be called by. Mediators will be very happy for you to call them by their first names as this often makes people feel more at ease. We will need to know your date of birth and your address and the most convenient way to contact you. If you are happy to receive correspondence about your case by email, we will be able to give you much quicker and more efficient service, but we will keep in touch with you by post if you do not use email.

We will then consider your needs as an individual if you have any disabilities and need any support. This can be anything from providing a mediation venue that has disabled access to a hearing loop system. It is important for us to know if you will need to have a carer with you during your mediation sessions because we will need to be open about this with your ex-partner. We will also ask if you are a vulnerable adult. Many people will not have come across this term, but it refers to people who need, or may need, support from agencies such as community care services. This could be because of mental health, disability, age or illness issues, or because they are not able to protect themselves from harm or exploitation.

People sometimes ask if they can bring a family member or friend with them for emotional support. We understand what a stressful time this is, but we have to ask family members or friends not to be present with you during the mediation sessions. If you have any concerns, please bring them up with the mediator during your MIAM.

The mediator will ask you what ethnic group you identify with, for example “White British” or “Asian British”. You may also be asked about your immigration status because it could have an impact on your mediation case. This question is normal and nothing to worry about, the mediator will not report your status to the Home Office or any authorities. The mediator will be able to point you towards an organisation who can give you a free immigration consultation if there may be any issue with your immigration situation.

We would also like to know how you found out about our service. This will help us understand how we can get the message across to more people about our work and help more families going through difficult times.

Finally in this part, we need to know about your availability if your case goes forward to mediation. Let your mediator know if there are any dates you need to avoid. You may already know about important appointments, for example with your solicitor or doctor, or you may need to fit your mediation times around work or childcare commitments. We will always try and arrange mediation appointments to cause you the least inconvenience possible, and in return we ask you to treat your mediation appointments as seriously as you would treat an appointment with your solicitor, doctor or court date.

Next, we will need some basic information about your ex-partner – their first name, surname, date of birth, email address, postal address and mobile number if you know these. Either a current email address or postal address is important if you know them, as this is the best way to invite them to take part if the case is suitable for mediation.

The mediator will then want some information about your relationship with your ex-partner, for example “Were you married?”, “How long were you in your relationship?”, “When did you separate?” Don’t feel you have to remember exact dates; approximate dates and timeframes will be fine. You will also be asked about your legal status: single, married or divorced.

Next, the mediator will ask whether you have children together and if so, their first name, surname, sex, and date of birth. It is important to give the full legal names of the children concerned. You will be asked who the child or children are living with and if you have parental responsibility. In the father’s case, this nearly always means that the father is named on the chid(ren)’s birth certificate. The mediator will also ask if your children have any health or special needs that we need to be aware of for the mediation process. For example, your child might have some kind of disability which needs to be taken into account when discussing your case in mediation.

Your mediator now needs to ask you the delicate question of whether there have been any domestic abuse and violence issues. Remember here that your MIAM meeting is completely confidential, so you need to speak openly and honestly here because it is really important that we fully understand everything about your situation. Domestic abuse and violence takes many forms and can affect men as well as women. It is not just the ‘obvious’ that results in visible injuries such a bruise or a black eye. There are other forms of abusive behaviour: your ex-partner might have been very controlling, or intimidating, threatening or blaming towards you; there could have been physical, sexual or verbal abuse, you could have felt under emotional pressure or isolated, forced into doing things or under economic or financial control. If you have been a victim, it is important to tell your mediator.

If there have been any incidents of abuse, you will be asked if there has been or there is currently any police involvement. The police might have been called to a disturbance at your home between you and your ex-partner. Again, please give the mediator approximate dates or timeframes and whatever information you think is important. You will be asked if Social Services have been or are still involved in your family’s life. There is nothing sinister in this question; many families from different backgrounds receive support from social workers. It could have been that a family member is ill, or that children are finding it difficult to deal with changes in their lives.

The next part of the MIAM asks if you have any legal proceedings or court applications pending. Mediation can be suitable even if you have a court date. The mediator will ask you for any dates that you may have, so they can be aware of timeframes.

Many people have a MIAM because they are recommended by their solicitors. If this applies to you, please let the mediator know their contact details; remember though that your mediator will never discuss details of your case with your solicitor. If you don’t have a solicitor but think you might need legal advice, Direct Mediation Services has access to a group of independent solicitors as part of our Legal Exchange. You can find information about this service on our website. Just let the mediator know if you are interested in this service. Most of the members will offer a short initial consultation for free.

The next part of the MIAM is less structured and gives you the space to speak freely about your case. Don’t worry if you don’t know where to start; the mediator will be able to ask you a couple of questions to get you started. But here are some of the questions you might want to think about:

If the issue is about seeing your child(ren):

  • What is the current situation like?
  • Are you spending any time with your child(ren)? If so, what are the arrangements at the moment, are you happy about them or do you want more or less?
  • If you do not have contact any more, what were the previous contact arrangements and why did it end? Sometimes there could be a new partner, a new baby, a change in jobs, a house move, a disagreement.
  • How would you like the contact arrangements to work in the future?

Your mediation might be about sorting out how to divide your assets so you can each have a clean financial break from your ex-partner and move on independently with your lives. At this stage, your mediator will want to get an idea about what you have between you. You do not need exact figures and valuations at your MIAM, but the mediator will need to know:

  • How many bank/building society/savings accounts do you have, either on your own or jointly with your ex-partner?
  • Did your ex-partner have accounts in their own name that you know about while you were together?
  • Do you have pension plans that need to be taken into consideration? Does your ex-partner have any?
  • Roughly how much are your assets worth – house, cars, caravans, timeshares, etc?
  • Do you and/or your ex-partner have your own business, how well is it doing?
  • Don’t forget that your finances include loans and debts. How much do you owe on loans or credit cards – even including money borrowed from family members?

The mediator will make notes about what you say to help them structure and plan future mediation sessions with you and your ex-partner.

So, you have now given your mediator a good overview about you, your ex-partner and the general situation, what next? What happens after the MIAM?

Either your case will not be suitable for mediation and the mediator will give you the MIAM certificate you need to start the court process, or your case seems suitable for mediation and we will contact your ex-partner.

Case not suitable for mediation

The mediator might decide that your case is not suitable for mediation, even if you think it is. The mediator will explain why they have come to that decision. A common situation is if there could be a child protection issue and the courts will better placed to deal with it. The courts have more power and resources to look into situations such as child safety and can order reports from different agencies to help assess the risks. In cases like this, the mediator’s certificate will say that “the mediator has determined that mediation is not suitable”.

Another option could be that after having had your MIAM, you don’t feel that mediation is the right thing for you to sort out your problems. This is perfectly fine, as mediation is not compulsory and is not for everyone. The important part is that you have thought seriously about it and have made an informed decision. The mediator will then issue a MIAM certificate to you which says that “the applicant does not wish to start or continue mediation”. This will be sent to you after the MIAM, usually by email. It is important to mention that if your case goes to court, the judge will probably ask you your reason for deciding not to try mediation.

Your MIAM certificate is valid for four months from the date of issue. Your application to the courts must be made within this time or it will be refused and you will be asked to return to mediation. You will then have to pay for another MIAM, because mediators are not allowed to re-issue a certificate. Legal Aid clients would have to go through a new Legal Aid assessment.

If you lose your certificate, it can be reissued at no charge with the original issue date.

Case suitable for mediation

The final option is that you and your mediator agree that your case is suitable for mediation and you want to go forward with it. We will then contact your ex-partner and invite them to join in mediation. We usually prefer to do this in writing either by letter or email, but we can also phone them if necessary. Your ex-partner has five working days to respond. The letter gives a number of links which explain about family mediation and tells them that they could get Legal Aid funding if they are on benefits or a low income, and about how much privately funded mediation costs. We also explain that if they refuse mediation, they may have to explain to a judge why they refused to take part. They can reply to us by post, email or phone. If your ex-partner has not replied after five working days, or has replied and refused to take part, we will immediately issue you with the MIAM certificate. If your ex-partner has not responded or refused, the MIAM certificate will state this. If your ex-partner accepts the invitation, we will continue with the process and arrange a MIAM for them as soon as possible. If your ex-partner is applying for Legal Aid, we have to do the Legal Aid assessment before they have their MIAM. This can take up to 10 working days and will slightly delay getting to the mediation stage. However, if they are successful with their application, their Legal Aid will also cover the cost of your MIAM and your first joint mediation session. You would then only have to pay for your second and subsequent mediations. Clients usually ask us to hold the money they have already paid for their MIAM and use it to pay for the second mediation session.

How do mediation sessions work?

We will probably already have given you a brief overview of how mediation works, either before or during your MIAM, or you might have been able to watch one of our helpful short videos on Direct Mediation Services’ YouTube channel. If you have any questions to ask about the mediation process, the mediator will of course be able to explain to you how mediation could work for your situation.

It is important to mention here the difference between mediation and relationship counselling. Mediation is for people who have accepted that their relationship has ended and now need to sort out child arrangements or finances. Mediation is not about ‘trying to get you back together again’. If your relationship has not come to an end and you want help, relationship counselling or Relate might be a better route to try at this stage.

Another point to remember is that we are not family lawyers, so we cannot give you advice. We can give you some information about the law, but we are not qualified to advise you what you should or should not do. The mediator may discuss options, but will never tell you what to do.

It is often not easy for people to face having to speak calmly to their ex-partner about things like this when there are so many emotions involved, but the mediator is there to help you and to see fair play. The mediator is like a referee, not on anyone’s side and making sure both sides stick to the rules and keeping the discussion on track. The mediator will go through the Agreement to Mediate at the beginning of your mediation session, which explains the ground rules such as letting both sides have their say, not speaking over one another and ‘hijacking’ the discussion, and keeping the discussion respectful.

As we said earlier, the only people in the room during mediation will be you, your ex-partner and the mediator. The only exception is if you or your ex-partner need support from a carer because of a disability. Mediation is for you and your ex-partner and it is important that you can discuss matters openly in mediation. If communication between you really is so bad that you cannot be in the same place together or you would be intimidated, tell your mediator in the MIAM. We can work round this; if your mediation is online, you will both be in the comfort and safety of your own home, and if your mediation is face-to-face in an office, the mediator can arrange for you and your ex-partner to be in separate rooms and they will move between you. We call this “shuttle mediation”.

The mediator will always try to be as supportive as possible, but they will always remain impartial, as they cannot be on anyone’s side. They will not get involved in questions like, “Well, what do you think?”, “It’s unbelievable isn’t it?”, “Can’t you see how bad this is?”

Mediation is about you and your ex-partner coming to an agreement about the future. The past has happened and cannot be changed. If you start talking too much about what has gone on before, you can expect the mediator to gently bring you back to the present and the future. This is not about trying to blame anyone about what has happened in the past; it is all about how will the future be different and planning a route to get there and, where the issue is about child arrangements, what is best for your child(ren).

If you are discussing your finances, you both have to make full disclosure about all aspects of your finances just as you would in court. Sometimes people think that talking about finances in mediation is ‘less serious’ than having to disclose in court. It is not. The mediator must ask for exactly the same papers and level of disclosure. If either of you fails to cooperate, the mediator will end mediation and your case will be referred to court.

You and your ex-partner will each receive a summary of the main points from each mediation session and how the mediation process will move forward. At the end, if you have come to an agreement through mediation, you may receive one or more documents confirming what you have agreed and depending what you need to take things forward.

How many mediation sessions will I need?

The honest answer to this is that it depends how much you and your ex-partner disagree about. Sometimes it can take only one or two sessions, three or maybe four is more usual. If there is constant disagreement then it will take longer to reach an agreement. You will not be trapped in an endless round of mediation; if the mediator feels that you will not agree or it is going around in circles, they will tell you that directly and might bring your mediation to an end. But it does nearly always take less time – and much less cost – than battling it out through the courts.

If I need to go to court, what do I do?

When we send you your MIAM certificate by email, we will give you some helpful links: one to the C100 form, which is the form you need to complete for child arrangements, and the other is Form A, which is Notice of [intention to proceed with] an application for a financial order. Both these forms look complicated, and you might not be able to afford to pay a legal professional to complete them for you, so we give you a link to the Personal Support Unit, which provides free support. Even if you received Legal Aid for your mediation, you would not automatically receive Legal Aid for your family case.

Getting Legal Support

The Personal Support Unit (PSU) is the only charity in the UK that supports members of the public in court on an everyday basis. They have offices across England and Wales and each year they help thousands of people who would otherwise face going into court on their own. They have more than 700 specially trained volunteers, who provide a free service in 18 locations. There is a large demand for this service, and we recommend that you make an appointment. They aim to provide support, comfort and guidance throughout the court process. They also have a national helpline: 0300 081 0006 for people who cannot get to one of their offices.

In addition to the PSU, there is Citizens Advice, which may be able to assist you with your application. Most towns and cities have an office where they will have volunteers offering support. Their website also contains helpful information: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/ending-a-relationship/

Final Comments

Finally, Direct Mediation Services has created a step-by-step guide to help people complete the C100 form on their own. The guide only deals with straightforward cases about child arrangements, and it is important to point out that it is not a substitute to getting professional legal advice. We hope that this information page about what happens in a MIAM session has been helpful and has answered your questions. If you still have any questions or want to book your MIAM, please do not hesitate to contact our team and they will do all they can to you. We wish you all the best and hope you can find a positive way forward.