Photo of a calendar pinpointing the date of an upcoming change

The Family Procedure Rules govern and standardise processes and procedures in the family court system in England and Wales.

The rules originally came into force in 2010 but are updated periodically as and when a change is necessary to improve practice and procedure. The latest update is due to come into force on 29 April 2024.

Upcoming changes

The main update on this occasion is to introduce a new definition of Non-Court Dispute Resolution (NCDR) also known as ADR. Previously this definition focussed on mediation only, but will now be extended to cover a much wider range of options, including collaborative law, arbitration and private financial dispute resolution hearings.

The aim of this change is to help to promote a shift away from the default option of court proceedings and for couples and lawyers to consider whether any other methods of resolving disputes might be more appropriate and beneficial. There are a number of difficulties with the court system, for example, including delays, lack of Judges, wide range of possible outcomes or time for Judges to prepare for cases, unpleasant experiences whilst at court, which make other options much more attractive if appropriate to a particular case.

From the 29th April, all couples involved in financial disputes will need to give serious consideration to NCDR options before making an application to court. They will be required to talk through all of the available options at a MIAM (Mediation Information Assessment Meeting).

Any failure to consider these options or to engage in them without good reason may have financial implications and could affect who is ordered to pay costs if the matter continues to court. For the avoidance of doubt, good reason for not proceeding with NCDR options would be if the case involved domestic violence.

Judges will also have greater powers to adjourn proceedings so that NCDR can take place if they feel it would be appropriate, even if the parties do not agree.

What are the main Non-Court Dispute Resolution options?

  • Mediation (including hybrid mediation (where parties are supported by solicitors), shuttle mediation (where parties do not have to be in the same room as each other) and child inclusive mediation (where the mediator obtains the views of the child as part of the process);
  • Collaborative family law (where disputes are resolved by way of a series of round table meetings);
  • Arbitration (where an arbitrator is appointed by the parties to make a final and binding decision);
  • Private Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing (pFDR) (where the parties recreate the middle stage court hearing and appoint a judge themselves, who assists the parties with their negotiation, but does not impose a binding decision).

What are the benefits of Non-Court Dispute Resolution options?

  • NCDR options can often be much quicker than waiting for the matter to be determined by the court;
  • You usually get to choose your tribunal, and they have time to properly prepare for your case (not always the case in the court);
  • Your process will be more reliable than taking the risk that a court hearing will be vacated at the last minute due to lack of judicial availability;
  • Parties retain more control over the process and sometimes the outcome;
  • Matters can remain more amicable, which is most important where children are involved and parties will need to coparent moving forward;
  • The processes can often be less expensive overall.

Please do contact our Family Law team if you need any advice in respect of family law issues, or indeed to discuss the full range of Non-Court Dispute Resolution options with us.