Understanding the Impact of the Family Procedure (Amendment no 2) Rules 2023


Understanding the Impact of the Family Procedure (Amendment no 2) Rules 2023

The Family Procedure Rules (FPR) are essential in guiding the processes and practices within Family Courts. With the recent introduction of the Family Procedure (Amendment no 2) Rules 2023, it is important to understand what these rules entail, how they operate, and what the amendments mean if you are involved in a family law dispute.

What Are the Family Procedure Rules?

The Family Procedure Rules were first introduced in 2010 to create a unified set of rules to govern the practice and procedure of proceedings in the Family Courts and the High Court. These rules are designed to ensure that family law cases are dealt with efficiently and swiftly.

How Do the Family Procedure Rules Operate?

The Family Procedure Rules operate as a comprehensive guide for Solicitors, Barristers, Judges, and any other parties involved in family law cases. They set out the processes for filing applications, serving documents, and conducting hearings. Key principles underpinning these rules include:

1. Ensuring that cases are dealt with justly, including putting parties on an equal footing, saving expense, and dealing with cases in ways that are proportionate to the issues involved.

2. Encouraging active case management to ensure that cases progress efficiently. This includes setting timetables, controlling the case's progress, and fostering cooperation between parties.

3. Promoting the use of mediation and other Non-Court Dispute Resolution Methods (NCDRM) to resolve disputes without needing a court hearing.

What are the key changes brought in by the amendments?

The amendments to the Family Procedure Rules provide for the following:

• A wider definition of NCDRM to include mediation arbitration, evaluation by a neutral third party (such as a private FDR process) and collaborative law’. This list is not exhaustive. Although negotiations between parties’ Solicitors are encouraged, they are not technically NCDRM, unless such talks have been in a collaborative process.

• The Court must consider the use of NCDRM at every stage of proceedings. This means the Court will require updates from each party at every hearing concerning whether NCDRM has been utilised and if not, why not. For some people who are or have been in a relationship where there has been a history of controlling and/or narcissistic behaviour that is not necessarily abusive but makes dealing with their spouse extremely difficult, this pressure to engage in NCDRM may be difficult to handle. If you have concerns, it is imperative that you speak to your Family Law Solicitor, who will ensure the judge is made aware of your situation and feelings of stress and anxiety.

• References to the term ‘domestic violence’ have been replaced with ‘domestic abuse’.

• The Court will actively manage cases to encourage the use of NCDRM. For example, it could include times between hearings to allow space for parties to attend NCDRM. The Court can also adjourn proceedings without the parties’ agreement to allow sufficient time for NCDRM to be explored and attended by the parties.

• The Court now has a duty to analyse whether a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting took place and any NCDRM's outcome.

One concern regarding the new rules is the tightening of circumstances in which parties are not required to attend a MIAM. In addition, an exemption from a MIAM will not longer be permanent. However, it is vital to remember that the judiciary and court staff are highly trained in recognising and supporting people who are victims of domestic abuse. And your Family Law Solicitor will always ensure any concerns for your mental health and physical safety are heard and respected.

Wrapping up

Although these changes may seem intimidating at first glance, it is essential to note that using NCDRM to resolve family law disputes is often a more effective way to reach a resolution in terms of speed, cost, and preserving relationships. The latter is particularly important if children are involved, as parents need to communicate effectively for many years on matters such as schooling, health, and general day-to-day care.

The amendments to the Family Procedure Rules must be taken seriously as the Court has the power to make adverse cost orders on parties to family proceedings who refuse to consider or engage with NCDRM.

To ensure your best interests are protected and you feel comfortable with your understanding of family law procedures, it is essential to instruct a Family Law Solicitor with whom you feel comfortable. They will advise you on the best course of action given your situation and whether NCDRM is right for you.

If you have any questions regarding this article, please call us on 0300 3732424.