April 2024 Changes to non-Court Dispute Resolution for Family Matters

Here at Parfitt Cresswell, we have always encouraged our clients to consider alternatives to Court. At our first meeting, we discuss the various ways of resolving disputes whether that is:

  1. Reaching an agreement directly with your partner
  2. Mediation
  3. Solicitor negotiation
  4. Non court alternatives such as a private FDR or arbitration
  5. An application to Court, which is normally seen as a last resort or a way of timetabling the matter, if it’s clear that this is needed.

When working with clients, we continue to have non-court dispute resolution alternatives in mind, as these are often quicker and more cost effective ways of resolving matters, in contrast to going to Court.

The Family Court has actively encouraged mediation in recent years, partly with a view to reducing the number of their cases. As such, although there are limited exceptions, which include domestic abuse and/or urgency, Applicants in both Children Act and Financial Remedy cases currently have to attend a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) and ask a Mediator to sign the Court application form to confirm that they have considered mediation but either that it is not a suitable way forward or that mediation has broken down, to enable their application form to be issued by the Court.

What changes are being made to the Family Procedure Rules?

The forthcoming changes in the Family Procedure (Amendment No 2) Rules 2023 aim to take the MIAM requirement one step further, by promoting other non-Court alternatives to resolving matters, rather than just mediation.

From 29 April 2024, the definition of ‘non-court dispute resolution’ in FPR 2.3(1)(b) will therefore be expanded to mean ‘methods of resolving a dispute other than through the Court process, including but not limited to mediation, arbitration, evaluation by a neutral third party (such as a private Financial Dispute Resolution process) and collaborative law’.

FPR 3.9(2) will also be amended to require MIAM providers to inform attendees about these other forms of non-court dispute resolution and provide guidance on which may be most suitable for them and then how to proceed.

A new rule, FPR 3.3(1A), will be introduced. This will require parties to file a form with the Court outlining the parties’ views on using non-court dispute resolution to resolve the issues raised in the proceedings. Again, this new rule is to encourage parties to discuss and consider other ways to resolve their disputes. It will also ensure that the Court is aware of the parties’ positions on non-court dispute resolution throughout the case.

Previously, FPR 3.4(1)(b) allowed the Court to adjourn cases for parties to explore non-court dispute resolution only if the parties were in agreement. However, from 29 April 2024, this provision will be deleted. Instead, an amended FPR 3.4(1A) will provide that where ‘the timetabling of proceedings allows sufficient time for these steps to be taken’, the Court may adjourn proceedings to encourage parties to undertake non-court dispute resolution. The agreement of the parties will no longer be required.

In financial remedies cases, the power to encourage parties to undertake non-court dispute resolution will be backed with an amended FPR 28.3(7), which will explicitly state that failing to engage in non-court dispute resolution without good reason could lead to a departure from the general starting point that there should be no order as to costs.

The intention of the new changes is for parties to keep, at the forefront of their minds, the possibility of resolving disputes away from the Court, both in the interests of saving their own time and costs and also to assist the Court in reducing the number of cases in proceedings, at a time of continuing backlogs in cases and limited resources. Now that parties in financial remedy cases may be penalised by way of costs orders if they fail to engage in non-court alternatives, it is likely that they will be more motivated to consider this.

How Parfitt Cresswell can help

The lawyers at Parfitt Cresswell can advise you from the start and throughout the process on the various non-court alternatives including mediation, arbitration, round table meetings and private FDRs, and work with you to choose the right option for you and your family.

To speak with a lawyer, contact us today to arrange your complimentary initial consultation. Simply click on the link below, or call us on 0800 999 4437.

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