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Family Procedure Rules (FPR)

On 29 April 2024 important updates took effect in the Family Procedure Rules (FPR) with hopes to encourage parties to participate in ‘non-court dispute resolution’ in family law proceedings.

The family law courts are overwhelmed and are struggling to keep up with an ever increasing demand which results in long delays and hearings often being adjourned at short notice due to lack of Judge availability. The changes in the FPR in relation to the resolution of private family law arrangements sees an aim to promote early resolution outside of court through ‘non-court dispute resolution’. The definition of non-court dispute resolution in FPR 2.3(1)(b) will be expanded to mean ‘methods of resolving a dispute other than through the court process, including but not limited to mediation, arbitration, evaluation by a neutral third party (such as a private Financial Dispute Resolution process) and collaborative law’.

The MIAM procedure (which is the Mediation Information Assessment Meeting) is also being altered. Parties have been required to attempt mediation before the issue of court proceedings since 2011 and the completion of a MIAM form has been required when filing a financial application. The mediator was able to complete the MIAM form and state that mediation was not successful which would be sufficient to instigate court proceedings.  Under the amended FPR 3.9 (2) MIAM providers will now be required to explain to parties the various non-court dispute resolution options available to them, to provide advice as to which may be most suitable and why and also to provide guidance on how to proceed with those options. Being provided with this information will hopefully encourage parties to resolve their matters outside of court prior to the costly and timely issue of a court application.

A further amendment to FPR 3.3 (1A) introduces a new rule in which parties attending MIAM will be required to complete a form outlining their views on engaging with non-court dispute resolution to resolve the issues raised in the proceedings. This form will be required to be filed with the court and served on all parties, verified by a statement of truth, in a time period set down by the court. Also with the aim of promoting the early resolution of private family law arrangements outside of court FPR 28.3(7) has been amended to enable the court to now consider, in determining costs orders, the failure of any party, without good reason, to attend MIAM or any other non-court dispute resolution. With the threat of a costs order being made against them it is hoped parties will be encouraged to settle their matters outside of court through other methods.

A further amendment to FPR 3.4(1A) hoped to encourage parties to undertake alternative methods of resolution means it will no longer be necessary to have the agreement of all parties to adjourn proceedings in order to explore alternative options. This will be allowed where ‘the timetabling of proceedings allows sufficient time for these steps to be taken’.

Finally, some key wording has been amended. The term ‘domestic violence’ has been amended to ‘domestic abuse’, in line with the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, across the Family Procedure Rules and Practice Directions. In circumstances where domestic abuse applies parties are exempt from MIAM requirements. However, further wording has changed from the term ‘unreasonable hardship’ to ‘significant financial hardship’ in the aim of tightening provision within in FPR 3.8(1)(c)(ii)(ad).