Published on June 11, 2024

To improve the resolution of family disputes, recent changes to Family Procedure Rules have placed a renewed emphasis on non-court dispute resolution procedures.

These amendments mark a significant shift towards more collaborative and less adversarial approaches to resolving family conflicts.

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While it will always be the case that there will be situations where the court will be needed, by encouraging parties to engage in mediation, arbitration, and other non-court dispute resolution processes, the updated rules seek to prioritise a more constructive and less adversarial approach to resolving disputes which are in the best interests of all involved, particularly children, while also alleviating the burden on the already heavily overburdened court systems.

The key changes in the Family Procedure Rules underscore the importance of exploring non-court avenues for dispute resolution before resorting to litigation, in particular in relation to divorce.

Here’s a closer look at some of the notable modifications:

  • If you are considering applying to the court to sort out your financial or child arrangements, then the new rules aim to limit your ability to avoid attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). A MIAM is a meeting where an authorised family mediator provides couples with information about mediation and other methods of non-court dispute resolution as sensible options for resolving disputes. If you are seeking to rely on an exemption to avoid attending a MIAM you will need to justify your reasons and provide supporting evidence at the time you make your court application.
  • The revised rules limit the exemptions that you can rely on for non-attendance at a MIAM;
  • Where an exemption is not valid or the claim is out of date, the court can direct the applicant to attend a MIAM and can adjourn the proceedings pending that attendance.
  • The court now has the power to require that a party in court proceedings file a form setting out their views on using non-court dispute resolution. When deciding whether such a process is appropriate, the court will take into consideration whether a MIAM has taken place, whether a valid exemption has been claimed and whether the parties have attempted mediation or other form of non-court dispute resolution and the outcome of that process.
  • Unless an exemption applies, when you arrange a MIAM with a qualified mediator you will need to provide the contact details of your ex. Even if your ex is not willing to attend a MIAM, the revised rules provide that you should attend the MIAM.

Enhanced support for non-court dispute resolution

  • The revised rules emphasise the courts’ support for non-court dispute resolution processes, and even once court proceedings have started, the court can encourage the parties to obtain information about these processes and direct them to undertake them instead of pursuing the court application.
    • Non-court dispute resolution processes include:
  • Mediation
  • Arbitration
  • Evaluation by a neutral third party
  • Collaborative Law

Whilst not officially included in the definition of non-court dispute resolution by the Family Procedure Rules, this can also include Child-Inclusive Mediation.

Future articles will look at the benefits of each of these different methods in turn, and how the mediation process can provide a framework for using them.

  • The court has the power to adjourn proceedings so that parties can attend non-court dispute resolution, and whilst the court cannot mandate a party to attend a non-court dispute resolution process, it can take the failure to attend into account when considering whether to make an order for costs in relation to the proceedings. This means that the court can make an order for the party who is unreasonably refusing to engage in a non-court process to pay the other party’s legal costs.

These measures demonstrate a real commitment to facilitating constructive dialogue and mutual agreement between separating parties, which can often lead to more satisfactory outcomes for all involved, including making your own decisions about future arrangements rather than a court imposing its own decisions.

In conclusion

The recent changes to Family Procedure Rules represent a significant step towards promoting non-court dispute resolution methods in family matters. By prioritising mediation, arbitration, and other processes the amendments seek to foster a culture of cooperation, communication and mutual respect among parties involved in disputes.

By empowering families to take ownership of the resolution process and tailor solutions to their specific needs, these changes herald a more constructive and compassionate approach to resolving family conflicts in the modern legal landscape.

If you like to find out more about the author, Rebekah Gurshany, please visit her profile.

You may also find this article helpful ‘(Almost) Anything But Family Court’

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The Early Days Of Separation

Humans are designed to cope with many onslaughts, but change continues to prove extremely challenging. How you manage the early days of separation or divorce has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the process.

When couples separate, they are often thrown into a period of uncertainty. Identities are changing from couple to single, from mum and dad together as a family unit to mum with children and dad with children. Depending on the circumstances and who decides to leave the family home, there are many questions that arise during the early days of separation. “Will we have to sell our home?” “I haven’t worked since we had children – how will we manage financially?” “What will our friends and family think?” “How much will divorce cost?”
“Will I cope on my own?” There seems to be so much to sort out both practically and emotionally and it comes at a time when at least one of you will be ‘all over the place’ emotionally due to the loss you are experiencing. This can make decision-making seem impossible. Who wants to agree the practicalities of legal issues and more importantly organise the children when they are devastated, angry and confused by loss? It can turn otherwise rational, clear-thinking mums and dads into what appears to be belligerent, stubborn, unreasonable people.

Take Your Time!

In those early days of separation or divorce, take your time if you can. Seek support from friends, family and professionals. Try not to make any big decisions too quickly.
Bear in mind that communication problems with your ex and all the pressures on family life you are now experiencing, like for many separating couples, will get better with time. It’s important to recognise that you and your ex will more than likely be in very different emotional places at the moment; different stress levels and anxieties will be making communication difficult. Taking the time to sometimes do nothing, to not react, give things a day or two, can prove very useful techniques.
What you have to remember is that if you have children, your ex is always going to be part of your life. That can be hard to take on board when you are feeling hurt and angry. If you can find a way to communicate with each other that focuses on the children, you will all benefit in the years to come.

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