Upcoming change to Family Procedure Rules from April 2024

The Family Procedure Rules were created in 2010 and set out how any court proceedings in family cases should be conducted. There have been numerous amendments made to these rules since they came into being some 24 years ago, but each amendment has been made in order to bring procedures into line with modern day attitudes in society. The latest amendment “The Family Procedure (Amendment No. 2) Rules 2023 (SI 2023/1324)” was laid before Parliament on 7 December 2023 and will come into force partly on 8 April 2024 and partly on 29 April 2024. 

The main focus of the amendment is to strengthen the powers that the family court has to “stay” (pause) court proceedings in order to give the parties the opportunity to engage in a non-court dispute resolution (NCDR) such as mediation. 

Every court case brought under the Family Procedure Rules requires the court to actively manage the case and part of this management is to encourage the parties to use NCDR. Now with the new amendment parties to a court case are going to be required to go a step further by filing a statement with the court at the outset of their case to tell the court their views on using NCDR as a means of resolving the issues they have raised in the proceedings. 

The definition of NCDR at FPR 2.3(1)(b) is also going to be widened 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”.

Part 3.9(2)(e) will be amended to impose a statutory requirement at any MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) that the MIAM provider will ‘indicate to those attending the MIAM which form, or forms of non-court dispute resolution may be most suitable as a means of resolving the dispute and why’ and ‘provide information to those attending the MIAM about how to proceed with the form, or forms, of non-court dispute resolution in question.’

There are also amendments to modify or remove certain exemptions from the requirement to attend an MIAM and provide for the court to consider whether a validly claimed MIAM exemption is no longer applicable.

When the second round of provisions come into force on 29 April 2024, and an amended FPR 3.4(1A) the court is going to have the power to adjourn proceedings where the timetabling of proceedings allows sufficient time for NCDR to be explored and carried out by the parties and the court will be able to do this without even requiring the parties’ agreement as is the current state of play. 

Most importantly, in financial remedies cases, this power to ‘encourage’ will be backed with further amendments to the rules. An amended rule 28.3(7) provides for the court to consider, as a matter of conduct, when determining whether to make an order for costs in financial remedy proceedings, any failure of a party to attend an MIAM or attend non-court dispute resolution.  Costs orders could be made against one or both parties if NCDR is not properly considered or engaged with.

Time will tell whether the forthcoming amendments to the Family Procedure Rules will herald a change in culture and interest in NCDR. 

At Smith Partnership Solicitors our experienced Family Law team always encourage the use of NCDR within every matter where it is appropriate. We actively strive to keep matters out of the court system and will explore all avenues of NCDR before any court application is made.  After all an application to Court has to be made as a last resort. 

To find out more about the various NCDR options and which could be right for your circumstances, do not hesitate to get in touch today on 0330 123 1229, send us an email via info@smithpartnership.co.uk or complete our contact form.

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