Amendments to the Family Procedure Rules

Photograph of Angela O’Neill

Posted: 19th April 2024
by Angela O’Neill

Enhancing Access to Non-Court Dispute Resolution

The Family Procedure Rules (FPR) underwent significant changes on the 29th of April 2024, particularly in relation to Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) and Non-Court Dispute Resolution (NCDR). These amendments aim to shift the emphasis towards non-court resolution methods and promote early dispute resolution. Let’s explore the key changes that will be introduced and their potential impact on family law proceedings.

MIAMs, initially introduced in 2014, were designed to encourage clients to consider the possibility of resolving their disputes through mediation or alternative routes before issuing court applications. However, a MIAM was often regarded as a minor obstacle to navigate and forget.

The amendments create a framework for continuous assessment and encouragement for clients to consider a Mediation as an NCDR option before commencing court proceedings and to reconsider the possibility of NCDR as the case progresses. The changes are structured to produce proactive consideration of non-court dispute resolution methods, fostering a culture of early resolution and cooperation.

The amendments introduce a significant power for the judge to adjourn proceedings without the parties’ agreement, to allow them to investigate NCDR. This move, whilst not making mediation compulsory, signals the judiciary’s commitment to exploring every avenue for reaching resolution outside of the courtroom.

Crucially, the changes also extend to the costs rules. Failure to attend a MIAM or engage in NCDR without a valid reason will now be considered a reason to depart from the normal “no order as to costs” rule. This amendment highlights the significance of non-court dispute resolution in the eyes of the judiciary, signalling that parties failing to consider or engage in these methods may face repercussions in terms of costs. By aligning the costs rules with the emphasis on NCDR, the amendments underscore the expectation for parties to actively explore non-adversarial pathways towards resolution.

By expanding the concept of non-court dispute resolution and providing clearer guidelines, the changes to the FPR aim to encourage a broader array of methods for resolving family disputes. These methods may include mediation, arbitration, evaluation by a neutral third party, and collaborative law, among others. The amendments also underscore the importance of detecting and tackling domestic abuse, broadening the scope of exemptions while tightening up the exceptions to attending a MIAM.

Ultimately, these revisions to the FPR seek to instil a culture of early, non-court dispute resolution, ensuring that parties engage in meaningful attempts to resolve their family disputes outside the traditional court process. By shifting the focus towards NCDR and integrating it, knowingly, into the court process, the amendments aim to facilitate a more collaborative and efficient approach to family law proceedings, aligning with the overall objective of ensuring fairness, access to justice, and the best interests of all involved parties.