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Family procedure rules strengthen mediation assessments to promote out-of-court resolutions

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Family procedure rules strengthen mediation assessments to promote out-of-court resolutions

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The Family Procedure Rules have been revised to enhance the attendance of potential applicants at Mediator Initial Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) and encourage the consideration of non-court dispute resolution (NCDR) options

The amendments address concerns that the previous rules did not sufficiently divert cases from court proceedings as intended. MIAMs serve as crucial sessions where accredited mediators inform applicants about settling disputes outside of court.

Key changes include:

  • Mediators at MIAMs must now discuss various NCDR options, such as arbitration and collaborative law, not just mediation.
  • MIAM procedures commence earlier in the application process.
  • Courts are obligated to promote NCDR options throughout proceedings, with discretion to adjourn hearings to facilitate this.
  • Certain exemptions to MIAMs are restricted or eliminated.
  • Parties must file Form FM5, outlining their views on NCDR, seven days before the first hearing.

Nick Emmerson, President of the Law Society of England and Wales, underscores the importance of supporting parties to resolve disputes outside of court while safeguarding access to the judicial system. He emphasises that mediation should not be mandatory, ensuring access to courts when necessary.

Gemma Hope, Specialist Family Solicitor, Mediator and Collaborative Lawyer at Family Law Partners, says of the changes:

"Non-court options can be quicker, less adversarial, and more cost effective. This can result in better outcomes for separating couples and for any children involved. It’s also important to be aware that, if you apply to court unnecessarily to resolve an issue that could more appropriately be dealt with by a form of non-court dispute resolution, you are likely to now get bitten.”

Regarding legal aid, Nick Emmerson advocates for its provision in private family law cases, including early legal advice. He praises the Ministry of Justice's plans to pilot an early advice scheme and pledges continued collaboration on the matter.

The updated Family Procedure Rules offer parties a comprehensive exploration of dispute resolution options, promoting efficient and effective resolution mechanisms beyond traditional court processes.

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