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Courts To Encourage Mediation In Family Cases

Changes were made to the family court rules in April to promote mediation and other forms for dispute resolution outside of court. Vanessa Friend, a partner in our family law team and a mediator, explains the impact.

Many people experiencing family law issues will have heard about mediation or been encouraged to use alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”), which means the options for resolving a dispute without going to court. The court rules have now been changed to place more focus on these options, which are generally quicker, less expensive and stressful than attending court.

What are the changes?

The changes have been made to the Family Procedure Rules (“FPR”), which govern the procedure used in family courts in England and Wales:

  1. The definition of “non-Court dispute resolution” (NCDR) has been widened 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 dispute resolution process) and collaborative law.” FPR 2.3(1) (b)This removes the focus solely on mediation and incorporates other forms of ADR, such as arbitration. Collectively they will be called non-court dispute resolution.
  2. The parties to a court application will have to inform the court of their position on NCDR and any attempts to use it by filing open statements before the first hearing.
  3. The exemptions for attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM), which are required in most family cases before a court application is issued, have been reduced. A MIAM is a meeting with an accredited mediator who will explain the NCDR options and consider which could be suitable for your matter.
  4. The court will have a duty to check compliance with the rules to ensure that opportunities to settle matters have not been overlooked;
  5. Judges will have the power to impose adjournments of hearings to encourage the take-up of non-court options; and
  6. Parties face the prospect of costs orders for breach of the rules.

Practical points

The parties to a court application will need to file a form (Form FM5) with the court setting out their views on using non-court dispute resolution as a means of resolving matters. The form must be filed at least seven days before the first hearing (the “First Appointment” in financial proceedings and the First Hearing and Dispute Resolution Appointment in private law children proceedings). The court can direct another time frame for filing and can direct that it is filed before subsequent hearings.

The hope is that many matters will no longer need to be in court, because parties will find NCDR effective. This will reduce the burden on the court system, which is currently dealing with huge delays.

If you have a family law issue, it is sensible to obtain legal advice at the earliest opportunity so that you understand your options. You should ask your family lawyer to explain the NCDR options and provide the names of professionals in those areas for your consideration.

At Hodge Jones & Allen our friendly and experienced team offer mediation, collaborative law and other forms of NCDR. We can also represent clients within court proceedings if NCDR is not possible.

If you would like to have an informal discussion about your needs with our family law mediators , please call 0330 822 3451 or request a callback. 

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