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Significant changes to the Family Procedure Rules from 29th April 2024

The Family Procedure Rules (FPR) saw significant changes on the 29th April 2024.   These changes have been implemented to encourage separating families, the Family Courts, and family lawyers to engage with alternative ways to resolve financial and child arrangements away from the court.

There is now a greater expectation to consider the options to resolve matters out of the court arena and this will be a welcome change to many as parties increasingly explore alternative, creative and constructive ways to resolve a family dispute.

Another reason for the change is that the Family Court is still struggling to manage the volume of applications being issued.  The impact has led to cases being removed from court listings at short notice and there being increasing delays until hearings are rescheduled.

The FPR are guiding principles for processes and procedures for the Family Court system of England and Wales and are governed by the Family Procedure Rule Committee.  The rules were originally put in place to:

  • Outline practice directions
  • Allocate judicial powers
  • Prescribe forms
  • Regulate Court procedures within England and Wales

What changes to the Family Procedure Rules took effect on 29th April?

A significant change to FPR is that the definition of ‘non-court dispute resolution’ (NCDR) has been broadened.

Non-court dispute resolution means methods of resolving a dispute other than through the court process. It now includes, but is not limited to,  mediation,  arbitration, evaluation by a neutral third party (as would happen in private financial dispute resolution or FDR), and a collaborative law approach. This new definition is designed to bring the various methods for resolving disputes to the fore to encourage people to explore these rather than immediately issuing a court application.

In fact, the new legislation resulting from the changes to FPR insist parties should actively engage in NCDR to try and resolve their dispute. As a result, if parties appear in court, they will need to explain why they have not engaged in any NCDR options.  This could lead to the judge adjourning a hearing to encourage parties to attend a form of NCDR.

Parties will not only be expected to consider engaging with a NCDR process before making an application to the court, but there is an ongoing obligation to consider NCDR throughout and as proceedings progress.

Although it is not mandatory to engage, the new rules also allow the court to adjourn proceedings without the parties’ agreement to encourage them to participate in a NCDR process.

Importantly, if parties have not attempted a form of NCDR, the new FPR rules now state that failure to engage without a good reason may negate the usual “no order as to costs” principle. This means the parties will be at risk of a costs order being made against them if they are unable to provide a good reason as to why they have not tried some means of NCDR.  This amendment is to provide a concrete financial incentive to explore alternative dispute resolution options.

There is also a change to the previous FPR that mediators must be aware of.  Now the changes to FPR have taken effect, mediators must inform the couple about all forms of NCDR in their initial mediation information assessment meeting (MIAM).

The changes have not come as a surprise to the lawyers and accredited mediators in our family law team.

We have seen an increasing number of initiatives coming from the government in a bid to not only take pressure off the courts but also offer separating couples a less confrontational and more cost-effective means to resolve their disputes. We offer a full range of non-court based dispute resolution options and welcome these long awaited changes.  We look forward to seeing how well these changes work over the coming months.

To discuss any aspect of your family circumstances and the various options available to you, please contact us today or call us on 020 8866 1820 to speak to speak to one of our highly experienced Family Law team.