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Home / News and Insights / Insights / Resolving a family law dispute without going to court

This article has also been featured in Solicitors Journal.

Bringing a relationship or a marriage to an end is a difficult decision. This can be made all the more daunting by the prospect of having to apply to court for an order about how much time your children should spend with each parent, or how the finances should be divided between you and your former spouse or partner.

However, there are many ways to resolve a family law dispute outside of court and, indeed, the courts encourage parties to resolve their disputes in other ways, such as through mediation, arbitration, or receiving an evaluation of the likely outcome of the case from a third party.

In April 2024, a number of changes came into effect aiming to increase the role of non-court dispute resolution (NCDR). The aim of these changes is to go further than simply encouraging parties to consider using non-court methods to resolve their dispute. The emphasis is now on parties using, rather than simply considering, these methods, unless there is a good reason not to do so. Some of the key changes made in April 2024 are as follows:

  • before a person can issue most family court proceedings, they must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). This is a meeting where an accredited mediator provides the person who is contemplating a court application with information about other ways of settling the dispute. As of April 2024, the mediator must provide the person attending the MIAM with more extensive information about NCDR methods, including not only mediation, but also arbitration, collaborative law, or receiving an evaluation of the case by a third party;
  • even where court proceedings have begun, the court has a duty to encourage both parties to consider whether the matter can be resolved outside of court. As of April 2024, the court has the power to adjourn a hearing to a later date, in order to give the parties extra time to try and resolve matters outside of the courtroom;
  • as of April 2024, both parties are required to file a form seven days before the first hearing in the case, to set out their views about whether NCDR is suitable for their case. The aim is to encourage both parties to seriously consider and discuss these options; and
  • the default position in most family law proceedings is that each party pays their own legal costs. However, as of April 2024, the court can ignore this default position, and make an order that one party should contribute towards the other’s legal costs, if that party has failed to engage in NCDR without good reason.

There are many advantages to resolving a family law dispute outside of court. It can help to keep both acrimony and legal costs to a minimum, and can result in matters being resolved at an earlier stage. In light of the reforms implemented in April 2024, it is clear that the family courts expect parties to try and resolve matters outside of the courtroom where possible, with potential financial penalties for those who unreasonably refuse to do so.

If you require further advice about any of the issues discussed in this article, please contact a member of our family law team.

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