Family disputes pushed to seek resolution out of court under rule changes

Changes to longstanding family law rules

Changes to longstanding family law rules mean more disputes could soon be solved out of court. Here’s what you need to know:

What’s changed?

Introduced in 2011, the Family Procedure Rules (FRP) are the guidelines for Family Courts to ensure cases are dealt with justly and proportionate to the nature, importance and complexity of the issues.

Efforts have been made to reduce the pressures currently faced by the courts in the latest iteration of amendments to the rules, with more emphasis being placed on requiring parties to consider out of court resolutions – also known as non-court dispute resolution (NCDR) – as a first step.

Under the revised rules, introduced on Monday, 29 April, courts will have greater powers to adjourn proceedings to allow parties to engage with NCDR. Whilst this stops short of being able to compel parties to do so, it does provide courts with a duty to consider whether resolution out of court is appropriate as well as the ability to impose fines on those that fail to engage without good reason.

What are the out of court solutions?

Under the changes to the family procedure rules, the definition of what qualifies as an NCDR has been broadened to “methods of resolving a dispute other than through the court process” listing a range of examples. Examples in the new definition include:

  • Mediation: Originally the only example of NCDR listed. This is where a neutral third party (i.e. a mediator) oversees a structured meeting designed to facilitate and promote an agreed settlement, compromise and/or reconciliation;
  • Arbitration: this is where parties agree to have a neutral third party (arbitrator) conduct a process similar but not identical to a trial;
  • Evaluation by a neutral third party: Parties will invite a neutral third party to give an opinion (not usually binding) on the merits (strength) of a case, or particular aspects of a case;
  • Collaborative law: Where each side appoints their own collaboratively trained lawyer, with everyone meeting to work through the legal process face to face.

This is by no means an exhaustive list with an expanding range of options available to families. Considering services such as One Couple One Lawyer, where couples are represented by a single solicitor acting in their collective interests, gives greater opportunity to customize the process to suit the individuals involved.

Kate Barber, Partner in the Thrings Family team, said: “These long-awaited updates to the rules will be a welcome introduction for many families seeking to resolve legal issues without having matters resulting in long-lasting damage. As a result of the changes, lawyers will be more likely to recommend finding a resolution out of court  and it is important for anyone finding themselves in such a situation to consider the options as early as possible and discover the right route forward for them.”

Thrings Family lawyers are experienced in all areas of the law that are close to home. Whether it is marriages and pre-nuptial agreements, or divorces and separations, they will put your best interests first, taking the time to get to know you so that you are supported with sound advice tailored to your needs. To find out more, get in contact.

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