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Emily Pope

Resolving cases outside of court – Changes to the Family Procedure rules

29 February 2024

“My ex is refusing to mediate but I do not want to spend money on legal fees, what can I do?”

As family solicitors, this is something we hear frustratingly often. Believe it or not, we would prefer your disputes to be sorted outside of a court process which is lengthy and costly for you both. But what can you do when the other person simply will not engage?

Upcoming changes to the Family Procedure Rules coming into force on 29 April 2024 are trying to encourage the use of ‘Non Court Dispute Resolution’ to bring down the number of separating couples who find themselves in court proceedings regarding their children and/or finances and to criticise those who fail to consider alternatives.

So, what is non-court dispute resolution? 

Perhaps self-explanatory, non-court dispute resolution is any means of resolving a dispute without going through the court process. The obvious and most common example is mediation, which comes in many forms including shuttle mediation (where yourself and your partner sit in separate rooms, with a mediator going between the rooms) and hybrid mediation (where you both have solicitors present). Other examples include arbitration, collaborative law and evaluation by a neutral third party (effectively a private hearing). 

Do I have to consider non-court dispute resolution? 

Currently, anybody making an application to court must first attend a Mediation, Information and Assessment Meeting (known as a MIAM). It is a short meeting, where a mediator will assess whether or not mediation could work in your situation. Changes to the rules mean that mediators will discuss all forms of non-court dispute resolution with you in this appointment. 

Some people view the requirement to attend a MIAM as a ‘box ticking exercise’ before applying to the court.

The new rules attempt to change that by: 

  1. Being stricter about the exemptions for a MIAM
  2. Requiring parties to file a statement with the court 7 days before every hearing indicating whether they would be open to using Non-Court Dispute Resolution
  3. Instructing judges to encourage parties to consider Non-Court dispute resolution in appropriate cases. 

What if the other person continues to insist on going through the court process? Are there costs consequences?

In finance cases, it is possible to ask the court to take this into account when deciding whether the other person should be expected to contribute towards your costs. A court will generally only make costs orders where the conduct of the other person has been unreasonable. The new rules ensure that a judge can take into account one party’s refusal to attempt non-court dispute resolution when making decisions about costs. 

The new rules come into effect on 29 April 2024. If you are looking for more information about the different forms of Non-Court Dispute Resolution, or you are dealing with a person who is refusing to engage in an out of court resolution and you need some advice, please do get in contact with our family team, all of whom are Resolution Members, showing their commitment to resolve disputes outside of the court arena. Call 0330 0945 500, email or complete our Contact Form and we'll get back to you.

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