21st Jan 2020

Starting conversations about MIAMs

Well, if the word ‘mediation’ is misunderstood then what the heck is a MIAM? I use voice recognition and it copes well with my dulcet Geordie tones, but it has never mastered this word/phrase ‘MIAM’.  I get ‘my am’, ‘my arm’ ‘my aim’ - or even Miami on occasion! Mediation is good but I can't promise a trip to Miami!!

Let's start with what a MIAM isn't - it's definitely not fluffy but it is a meeting you should want to attend because I make space for you to say what's occupying your heart and mind; what you need to sort out in order to move forward. Mediators are fantastic listeners and you can be assured that what you say during that first session is in confidence to the mediator (unless there are safety concerns) So it's a great starting point to spill out your guts and say ‘This is the mess - am I likely to be able to sort it in mediation?’ To which the answer is, mostly, yes.

For YOU a MIAM is focused mainly on the I! MIAM stands for Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting;

  • the two Ms explain what’s happening
  • the A is what I am doing (checking whether mediation is safe and a healthy way forward for all participants)
  • the I is for you!  Telling me your story and gaining information; about the mediation process itself but also what options might look like around your children’s arrangements or your finances. 

It’s not legal advice – that’s important and you should consider what legal advice you might need to help you before and during attending mediation – but there is a lot of general legal information available to you from the experienced mediator.  I can also share ideas about what other families I have worked with have done in similar situations and that can be really helpful.

Another question I'm often asked is what happens during this MIAM?  Each meeting is different but typically goes something like this:

  • Welcomes and introductions
  • Your story (you will likely have filled out a referral form, so I’ll have all the details like where everyone lives, works etc.)
  • My follow up, to make sure I’ve understood
  • Explaining what mediation is and isn’t
  • Some further questions from me (making sure mediation would be safe and a healthy for all participants)
  • Explaining how mediation would work going forward: arrangements for sessions (same room or shuttle), duration, timing and frequency, involvement of children…
  • Homework/preparations etc.
  • Discussing dates to meet again and confirming next steps and costs

There is a requirement that, if you're going to issue court proceedings about your children or about your finances, you must attend a MIAM first. In my opinion, everyone should attend a MIAM; both parties, separately, getting the information they need at the outset to make informed decisions about a manageable process for their family.

My experience is that sometimes only one party will come to a MIAM and the other party isn't willing to.  That's a real missed opportunity because those families will then end up in a longer battle which will cost significantly more.

Mediation isn't for every family, but it is for most. Remember the 80s-90s British Telecom  advertising slogan “It's Good to Talk”? It certainly is and, if there is willingness to attend and openness to consider options, I can mediate in pretty much any situation. You might think you're totally stuck and each person is very entrenched in their position but, if you're willing to give it a go, remember those statistics saying it's 75% likely to get resolved.  Or, put another way, for every 4 families who attend mediation, 3 will arrive at a mediated agreement.  Which means it’s got to be worth a go.


Sarah Smith is an Eminent Practitioner in Family Law and has been supporting separating couples for over 20 years.

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