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Greater emphasis on non-court dispute resolution for divorces and private children cases

View profile for Emma Roberts
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Practical tips for a positive separation

When a relationship ends, communication often breaks down. Even if a divorce starts off with both parties on good terms, discussing financial settlements can create tension. When it comes to important issues about children, parents might think the only solution is to go to court. However, with courts being overloaded with cases, it is perceived to be a better resolution if agreement can be achieved through discussions out of court.

Changes in Family Procedure Rules

The Family Procedure Rules, which outline how family courts operate in England and Wales, were updated at the end of April 2024. These rules explain the court's processes, the judge's powers, necessary forms, and documentation.

What’s new?

The updates include a broader definition of non-court dispute resolution (NCDR). Previously focused on mediation, NCDR now includes methods like collaborative divorce, arbitration, and private financial dispute resolutions.

Key points for divorcing couples

Express views on NCDR: Couples must now provide their opinions on NCDR in open documents with a signed statement of truth. They will be strongly encouraged to consider non-court options.

Cost penalties: If a couple does not engage in NCDR without a good reason (e.g., cases involving domestic abuse), they may face cost penalties and could be responsible for court fees in financial disputes.

Domestic abuse definition: The definition of “domestic violence” has been updated to “domestic abuse” to align with the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. This still allows for court proceedings to start immediately in cases of domestic abuse.

Mediation exemption narrowed: The grounds for skipping mediation have been reduced.

Judges’ additional powers

Judges can now pause proceedings if they believe NCDR would be beneficial, even if the couple disagrees. Couples must consider NCDR before starting a case and throughout its duration. They must file a form with the court and share it with all parties, outlining their views on NCDR. This ensures ongoing consideration of alternative dispute methods and requires judges to keep questioning if NCDR should be tried.

Impact of changes

These changes make it more likely that couples will use alternatives to court, or they may face negative consequences regarding costs. In financial settlements, the court can order cost penalties if a party fails to engage in NCDR without a good reason.

If you would like to speak to a specialist in our family law team regarding divorce, financial settlements or children issues please call Stephensons on  0161 696 6193.