Changes to mediation: parental involvement
Changes to mediation from 22nd April 2014
There have been many substantive changes to the mediation process which have occurred since the new legislation on the 22nd of April. This means that there are new requirements to the mediation process which should now be followed. In particular, these changes impact upon the MIAMS meetings (Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings.) Generally, the changes mean that MIAMS meetings will become compulsory in the majority of cases. There will be very few exceptions to the MIAMS process, so it is advised that all mediators, and those involved in mediation, acquaint themselves with exactly what those changes are.
There are many guides available to these changes to mediation which can be downloaded from official sites. However, what we have done is to summarise some of the most important changes which are going to take place in the mediation service. The most important changes are connected with the imposition of the Children and Families Act 2014 which places special restrictions on those applicants for a family order. With very limited exceptions, those people who actually put in an application for a family order will be required to attend a MIAMS meeting.
From the 22nd April 2014 it is assumed that there will be some form of parental contact, and a role for parents, in the life of a child. There are two categories of involvement which are considered. The first of these is known as direct involvement. This is a type of contact where it can be shown that a parent, or carer, has a key role in the child’s life. Indirect involvement is where the role is less central, and may involve cases where the child does not live with the parent or carer. What is different about these categories from preceding arrangements is that parental involvement does not require a child to spend a certain period of time with a parent for it to count as direct involvement. This was an unexpected outcome of the legislation which only came to be a consideration when the law passed through the House of Lords..
Child arrangement orders
On the date of the legislative change, residence and contact orders will be scrapped. These will be replaced with a new type of directive, which are known as child arrangement orders. The distinctive feature of these orders is that they stipulate the living arrangements of a child. Without recourse to naming one adult as a carer, the order will consider the direct / indirect dichotomy considered above. The orders will also allow mediators to consider what alternative types of contract might be available under the ‘indirect’ category discussed above. This could involve very minor forms of contact, such as a telephone call, or more substantive meetings.
It is expected that the new legislation, discussed above, will be less legalistic than the previous framework. There will be no prescriptive contact arrangements, for example. In addition, the categories of direct and indirect contact are much less ambiguous than the previous way of assigning children to a particular parent or carer. However, they do have substantial implications for the mediation process. Firstly, mediation will need to make sure that each party has a tacit understanding of their responsibilities towards their children. Although there will be no requirement to draw up strict schedules, there must be a greater degree of understanding of parental (and carer) roles with regard to their children.
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