Whilst there has long been an emphasis on the benefit of separating couples trying to resolve disputes between them without the need to go to Court, and most family lawyers will encourage that approach (unless of course there is a specific reason it would not be appropriate), formal changes to the Family Procedure Rules came into effect on 29th April 2024, to underline the benefit of this being the overarching approach taken where possible, and to send a positive message as to parties trying to explore options to resolve matters outside the Court arena if they possibly can, and to continue to think about these options, even if they do find themselves having to use the Court process.

One of the main changes that has been made, is that there are now standard forms in place for Non-Court Dispute Resolution, and a widening of the definition of Non-Court Dispute Resolution

If parties are involved in private law children proceedings or contested financial remedy proceedings, there is a new requirement. From now on, parties in these cases must complete a standard form expressing their views on trying to resolve their issues outside the court arena by way of alternative dispute resolution approaches, for example, mediation, arbitration, collaborative law, and neutral third party evaluation (such as private FDRs). However, this rule does not apply if there is a history of domestic abuse, as there are, as above, exceptions where this sort of approach would not be suitable, and this is recognised.

The form (called FM5) needs to be submitted before the first Court hearing and, if the Court requires it, before any other hearings in the case. The Court will be able to consider whether it is content that the parties have properly thought about and engaged with other options, unless there is good reason for them not to have done so. If the Court thinks that there is not good reason, it can adjourn proceedings to allow parties to further explore these options, and whilst the Court cannot compel parties to do so, it can, if it feels someone has not been willing to properly engage, penalise them, for example, by way of the making of costs orders against them if they have been unreasonable in this respect.

Why These Changes Matter: 

The goal of these changes is to encourage families to resolve their disputes without going to Court if they possibly can, and even if they are in Court proceedings, to keep a focus on whether, as their case progresses, there are options for resolving things another way.

By promoting approaches not involving the Court, and streamlining procedures, the hope is to make things smoother for everyone involved.

It is, however, always advisable to seek legal advice on matters at to the best approach in any given circumstance, as they are all different and no case or situation is the same. At Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice, we have a highly experienced team who will be happy to help and guide you through the process, whatever your family law situation may involve.

T: 029 2034 2233
E: enquiries@wendyhopkins.co.uk

Author: Sarah Wyburn

Published: 16/05/24