Recent changes to the Family Procedure Rules mean families and the court must do more than simply consider non-court dispute resolution.

Changes to the Family Procedure Rules

Amendments to the Family Procedure Rules came into force on 29 April 2024 and make provision for the court to encourage parties to resolve their disputes out of court.  

The new rules require parties to file a form with the court setting out their views on using non-court dispute resolution and make provision for the court to use timetabling to encourage non-court dispute resolution. When deciding what cost orders to make in financial remedy proceedings the new rules expressly provide for the court to have regard to any failure by a party, without good reason to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) or attend non-court dispute resolution.  

Whilst there is nothing new in offering clients alternatives to court and indeed at Watson Morris we have been using alternative dispute resolution for years, there remain many practitioners whose default has always been court.  Under the new rules they must do more than advise clients to consider non-court dispute resolution otherwise they may face criticism and adverse cost orders being made against them.

The rules also bring in a new a new definition of non-court dispute resolution which means ‘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’.  For a detailed explanation of all non-court dispute resolution options visit  Dispute Resolution – Watson Morris Family Law or you can download our guide to dispute resolution

Dispute resolution options

One size doesn’t fit all.  The different non-court dispute resolution options can be adapted to meet a client’s need or used alongside each other. For example, a couple can start off meeting with a mediator (which can be facilitated in the same room or in separate rooms called shuttle mediation) before moving on to use hybrid mediation which involves the parties’ lawyers in the negotiations.

Protecting parties from domestic abuse

Family practitioners must undertake careful assessments with their clients as to the appropriateness and suitability of the different options.  It is essential to gain an understanding of how the family communicate with one another, both during their relationship and post separation. Great care must also be taken in considering if there is or has been any form of abusive behaviour or power imbalance.  The new rules amend references to the term ‘domestic violence’ to align the Family Procedure Rules more closely with the terms used in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and which defines ‘abusive behaviour’ as any of the following:

  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Violent or threatening behaviour
  • Controlling or coercive behaviour
  • Economic abuse
  • Psychological, emotional or other abuse

Our approach at Watson Morris

At Watson Morris will carefully consider what course of action is in our client’s best interests and help our clients reach an outcome that works.  In some instances, for example if there are safeguarding or disclosure/evidence issues or the matter is urgent issuing court proceedings may be appropriate. 

For an initial fee no obligation discussion to see how we can help please contact us.

Written by Caroline Watson

April 30, 2024

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