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Changes to Family Procedure Rules

From 29th April 2024 there will be changes to the Family Procedure Rules (FPR). The current rules have been in place since 2010 and are being updated to place greater expectation on courts, family practitioners and families going through breakdown to use non-court-based methods to resolve financial and children matters.

What are the FPR?

The Family Procedure rules govern the process and procedures used in the family court system in England and Wales. They are governed by a committee, the Family Procedure Rule Committee.

The Rules provide practice directions – essentially how the family courts should run, the powers the Judge has, forms, documentation, etc. They standardise court procedures and practice across England and Wales.

What are the changes?

The FPR are being updated to include a new, wider definition of non-court dispute resolution (NCDR). Previously, this has focused on mediation, but will be extended to encompass methods such as collaborative divorce, arbitration, and private financial dispute resolutions.

The main thing divorcing couples will need to be aware of is that they will now need to set out their views on NCDR in open correspondence, alongside a signed statement of truth. They will be asked to genuinely consider out-of-court methods.

A failure to engage with NCDR without good reason (for example, the case involves domestic abuse), will likely have cost sanctions, and may affect who pays the litigation fees in financial dispute cases.

Circumstances that qualified for mediation exemption will also be narrowed.

Courts will also have the power to adjourn proceedings if the Judge feels that NCDR would be appropriate, allowing time for the couple to engage in a form of NCDR. This can now happen whether the couple agrees to it or not.

These changes will mean a considerable cultural shift, helping couples explore ways of resolving their disputes without going to court.

The aims are:

  • Support amicable dispute resolution
  • Support the wellbeing of children by keeping matters out of court
  • To relieve pressure on the courts

What options are there for non-court dispute resolution (NCDR)?

Divorce is rarely straightforward, and no two cases are the same. Your solicitor will be able to explore your options of NCDR with you at your first consultation to see which, if any, will be appropriate in your unique case.

Some examples of NCDR include:

What does this mean for me going through a divorce?

The key thing to be aware of is that you will no longer be able to simply tick a box to say that mediation is not appropriate for your case. Where NCDR is not possible, you will need to explain to the court why this is.

Failure to engage in NCDR without a valid reason will likely come with cost sanctions.

This is part of a wider drive by the Ministry of Justice to support families going through relationship breakdown by ensuring they are fully informed of the options available to them and supported throughout the process.

Useful Links

Court Fees Rising May 2024

A Guide to Financial Dispute Resolution

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The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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