Key Changes to Family Procedure Rules in April 2024

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The Family Court is overwhelmed by financial and children applications.  The Family Court recognises that court applications are expensive, time-consuming and there needs to be a cultural shift to move away from litigation and to consider alternative methods of resolving disputes. As a result, the Family Procedure Rules were changed in April 2024.

What are the changes to family procedure rules?

On the 29th April 2024 the Family Procedure Rules (FPR) saw a significant update.  Family Procedure Rules are the rules which govern the process and procedures that anyone using the Family Court must follow.  They ensure people understand what is expect of them and how the processes work.  They also provide the court with judicial powers to ensure the rules are followed.

As of the 29th April 2024 the rules around resolving family disputes were updated.

The definition of non-court dispute resolution (NCDR) Family Procedure Rules 2.3(1)(b) was widened to include but not limited to mediation, arbitration, evaluation by a neutral third party and a collaborative approach.  This means all parties need to consider non court-based routes to resolving their disputes before making a court application, unless they fall within one of the exemptions which have also been limited by the recent changes.

A further change was made to Rule 3.3 and now includes a new subsection 1A which sates “When the court requires, a party must file with the court and serve on all other parties, in the time period specified by the court, a form setting out their views on using non-court dispute resolution as a means of resolving the matters in proceedings.”

This means that throughout the court process the parties should be prepared to consider NCDR.  Those involved in the proceedings will need to be prepared to explain to the court why they are not engaging in some form of NCDR and the court has the power to order the parties to reconsider the use of mediation as a method to resolve their dispute.

At WSP Solicitors we have already seen this in action where the courts have taken the decision to order parties to consider mediation and when timetabling the court has allowed sufficient time for this mediation to take place.  If mediation is not taken up by the parties, then they need to be prepared to inform the court why this did not happen.

Furthermore, the court has the power to ask individuals to file a new form setting out their views on using NCDR.  The court can then take this into account when considering the individuals litigation conduct and whether to make a costs order against them.

How will the changes to the Family Procedure Rules affect you?

Before these changes there already existed a requirement for anyone wanting to make an application to the court to attend mediation.  However the reality was that a significant proportion of those attending the MIAM (Mediation Information Assessment Meeting) were doing so to fulfil the requirement to have the MIAM certificate signed off by a mediator to open the gateway to a court application.  The aim of these changes is to make attending the MIAM more than just a tick box exercise.  The hope is these changes will make people give real thought to using mediation or other NCDR routes prior to court and then during their court proceedings.

Whilst the court cannot force individuals to attend mediation it is clear from the changes that the court expect where it is safe to do so that individuals have a real attempt at resolving the dispute using NCDR and if not then they could face having a costs order made against them.

In X v Y [2024] Mrs Justice Knowles said “Going forward, parties in financial remedy and private law children proceedings can expect – at each stage of the proceedings- the court to keep under active review whether non-court dispute resolution is suitable to resolve proceedings.  Where this can be done safely, the court is very likely to think this process appropriate especially where parties and their legal representatives have not engaged meaningfully in any non-court dispute resolution before issuing proceedings.”

The benefits of NCDR – non-court dispute resolution

Separation is an emotional and worrying time, and there is lot to think about. Most people would prefer not to have to worry about court proceedings which can take a long time, can sometimes make things worse and may result in outcomes that simply do not work for you or for your family.

Generally, court proceedings are not required and there are a number of other options which you can choose to work things out at a pace that is right for you, calmly, privately and discretely, away from intrusive court proceedings and with the support of the right expertise at the right time and at the right cost.  What is important is that you get the very best service that helps you to reach an outcome that works.

As well as offering traditional legal advice, WSP Solicitors have experts in NCDR and can offer you:

  • Mediation
  • Resolution Together
  • Collaborative Law
  • Assistance in arranging arbitration and private FDR proceedings

4 benefits of using Family Mediation

Mediation involves meeting with your former partner and a mediator who are trained to help you both look at how you might reach a solution that works for both of you and your children and for your future. Mediators act in a neutral and even-handed way to assist you in reaching decisions together and will let you know when it will be important for you to have individual legal advice to support you and especially once you have reached a set of proposals that you would like to turn into a binding agreement.

The FPR changes and the courts approach to encouraging parties to use mediation, with the potential for a costs order against those who unreasonably ignore or fail to follow the courts new approach, may result in more people attempting mediation, but it is also important to remember that mediation and NCDR have many benefits.

  1. Mediation is often a lot more cost efficient than proceedings to court.  The average court proceedings can cost £14,000 whereas the average mediation costs are £1,500.
  2. Mediation is self-determining.  Therefore it is the individuals who take part that ultimately arrive at the solution that best works for them rather than having the decision imposed on them by a judge.
  3. Mediation is often quicker.  The courts are overwhelmed with applications and hearing dates are often many months in the future.  It is not uncommon for proceedings to be going on beyond 12 months.  In mediation you decide the number of session and the dates when they will date place, this allows you to reach a resolution more quickly and therefore move on with your future.
  4. Better communication.  At court it can often feel like win or lose that can lead to poor communication/relations going forward which can further negatively impact your children even after the divorce.  Parties who resolve disputes via mediation often have better communication moving forward.

You can find out more about our family mediation services here.

5 benefits of using Resolution Together

Under this service you and your former partner work with one solicitor who will provide you with all the legal advice and assistance you need to reach an outcome together which focusses on the best interests of the family rather than on either one of you ‘winning’ over the other, and help you to record your decisions in an appropriate and binding way.

  1. You and your former partner in control of the process and the solutions
  2. It focuses on the best interests of the family rather than one party “winning” and offers a joint and constructive approach
  3. The process is non adversarial and delivers a fair outcome which works for the family as a whole
  4. It is usually less expensive than the couple instructing individual solicitors
  5. The process is less mentally and emotionally draining than going through the court process

Find out more about Resolution Together and see if it is the right direction for you here.

4 reasons why you may choose Collaborative Law.

Working collaboratively is a way in which you and your former partner can reach solutions by meeting together supported by your own individual solicitor. You will each have the benefit of on the spot individual legal advice and support when you discuss matters in a meeting with your former partner.

  1. you reduce the need for your solicitors to negotiate via correspondence, saving time and money
  2. your solicitors will help you to design a service which will meet all your needs and ensures that you have the information, advice and support you need, when you need it and that helps you to reach an outcome cost effectively, efficiently and sensitively.
  3. The solicitors and committed to helping you to reach an outcome without having to go to Court
  4. You remain in control of the decisions and any decisions you make can be recorded into a binding agreement at the conclusion of your meetings

How WSP Solicitors can help you.

WSP Solicitors can also assist you in accessing a range of other professionals to help you to resolve matters outside of the court arena. This might include financial advisers/neutrals, family consultants/coaches, barristers who can provide a neutral evaluation of your situation and arbitrators who can deal with providing a binding outcome if and when you need it.

Family Law Arbitrators provide a legally binding decision when you have not been able to reach an outcome on some or all issues as a result of discussions together, or in mediation or from working collaboratively or working with a single or your own individual solicitors. Arbitration allows you to bypass delays waiting for Court dates and gives you control over the choice of professional considering your case.

A Private FDR service enables you to jointly select and appoint a financial remedy specialist lawyer to act essentially as a private judge to help you reach an outcome settlement in relation to your finances.

Contact WSP Solicitors to find the right solution for you.

Whatever your situation, we have NCDR services to help. Please feel free to contact us to learn how we can assist you in reaching workable decisions that will benefit you and your family’s future.

If you wish to contact WSP Solicitors to discuss NCDR please use the enquiry form on the side or call us at 01453 847200


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