Out of Court Options Take Centre Stage: Changes to the Family Procedure Rules in England and Wales

Recent updates to the Family Procedure Rules (FPR) in England and Wales, effective as of 29th April 2024, mark a significant shift towards encouraging out-of-court resolutions in family disputes. What does this mean for families facing family law issues?

Prioritising Non-Court Dispute Resolution (NCDR)

Previously, the FPR primarily focused on mediation as a form of NCDR. The recent amendments broaden the definition to encompass a wider range of options, including:

  • Mediation: A neutral third party facilitates communication and helps couples reach an agreement.
  • Arbitration: A neutral third-party arbitrator makes a binding decision based on arguments presented.
  • Early Neutral Evaluation: A neutral family law professional gives an indication of the most appropriate order in your case to help guide you to a resolution.
  • Collaborative Law: Lawyers for both parties work together to find solutions outside of court.
  • Private Financial Dispute Resolution: Hearings led by a qualified professional to resolve financial matters.

Here at Just Family Law, we encourage NCDR and have the experience to deal with NCDR processes so that your dispute is resolved in a less aggressive and adversarial environment.

Throughout a case there should now be continuing consideration of the appropriateness of an adjournment to attempt a non-court dispute resolution process.

MIAM Meetings and Increased Emphasis on NCDR

The requirement to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before applying to court remains. However, the focus of these meetings has shifted. Mediators will now discuss all available NCDR options, ensuring parties are fully informed before making a decision on the best process for them.

Financial Implications and Cost Sanctions

The new FPR place greater emphasis on considering NCDR in financial disputes. Parties will be required to demonstrate that they have given serious consideration to these options before initiating court proceedings. Failure to engage in NCDR without good reason (e.g., domestic violence) could lead to cost sanctions. Judges now have the authority to adjourn court proceedings and encourage participation in NCDR, even if both parties haven’t agreed to this.

Benefits of Out-of-Court Resolution

These changes aim to promote a more efficient and amicable approach to resolving family disputes. Benefits of NCDR include:

  • Reduced Cost: Court proceedings can be expensive. NCDR options can be significantly cheaper.
  • Faster Resolutions: Court backlogs can lead to delays. NCDR often offers quicker solutions.
  • Less Stressful: NCDR can be less emotionally charged than court battles.
  • Maintaining Control: Parties have more control over the outcome in NCDR compared to a court process.

The recent changes to the FPR signify a clear move towards prioritising out-of-court resolutions in family law matters. By encouraging exploration of NCDR options and potentially penalising those who disregard them without justification, these rules aim to achieve fairer, faster, and less stressful outcomes for families navigating separation and other legal issues.

Our years of experience in the family law system have taught us that it is generally better for our clients to resolve matters out of court. We specialise in providing these services.

To find out more about how we can help you to resolve matters relating to children or finances, with consideration of all out of court options

contact us:

01962 217640