Changes To The Family Procedure Rules

The latest Family Procedure Rules changes, effective April 29, 2024, expand the definition of non-court dispute resolution to include mediation, arbitration, and collaborative law. Courts now require parties to express their views on using these methods, emphasizing out-of-court resolutions.
UK Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration
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The latest changes to the Family Procedure Rules came into force on 29 April 2024.

This article will explain the recent changes to the Family Procedure Rules in private law children proceedings. For more information on the impact of the changes for couples involved in financial disputes, please see our earlier article.

What are the Family Procedure Rules?

The Family Procedure Rules govern the procedures and practices in the family courts in England and Wales.

How have the Family Procedure Rules changed?

The definition of 'non-court dispute resolution' in Family Procedure Rule 2.3(1) previously referred to (out of court) methods of resolving a dispute including mediation. This definition has been expanded to include specific reference to:

– mediation,

– arbitration,

– evaluation by a neutral third party, and

– collaborative law.

The court's duty to consider whether non-court dispute resolution is appropriate throughout proceedings is nothing new. However, with the addition of Family Procedure Rule 3.3(1A), the court can now also require parties to send to the court and all other parties a form setting out their views on using non-court dispute resolution to resolve the dispute.

When an application to court is made for a Child Arrangements Order, Specific Issue Order or Prohibited Steps Order, there is a requirement to attend a Mediation and Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making the application to court (unless an exemption applies). The person making the application to court can claim an exemption by ticking the relevant box within the application form (evidence may also need to be provided to the court depending on the exemption claimed). At a MIAM, the mediator will consider with the party (or parties) in attendance whether mediation or another form of non-court dispute resolution is appropriate.

The court will consider whether any MIAM exemption was validly claimed at the gatekeeping stage in private law children proceedings. With the changes to Family Procedure Rule 3.10, the court will now also need to consider whether a MIAM exemption was validly claimed but is no longer applicable. New paragraph 7 in Practice Direction 3A provides that if a MIAM exemption was not validly claimed, the court can direct either just the person who made the application or both of the parties to attend a MIAM. The court can also adjourn the proceedings to allow this MIAM to take place.

These recent changes to the Family Procedure Rules encourage a shift in focus towards the resolution of disputes regarding children (as well as other family disputes) outside of court. The court fee to start an application for a Child Arrangements Order, Specific Issue Order or Prohibited Steps Order has also increased from £232 to £255.

With the prospect of court delays, seeking to resolve disputes outside of court may be a quicker way of resolving disputes. Other options to the non-court dispute resolution methods listed above include attending parenting programmes (with the option to try and agree a parenting plan at the end) as well as out of court correspondence. Our specialist Children team can help you to resolve your dispute in a non-confrontational way, using the different methods of non-court dispute resolution.

If you need any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Family Law team to discuss which methods of non-court dispute resolution would be appropriate based on the specific facts of your case.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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