The government has set out plans to tackle an ‘unnecessary’ rise in family court proceedings by introducing legislative changes that could see parents hit with financial penalties if they do not engage in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) before taking a case to court.
Lord Chancellor, Dominic Raab, has outlined that too many civil cases are heading to court when ADR should have been used in the first instance to find a resolution.
Raab is currently said to be drawing up plans which are designed to significantly reduce the number of family cases that end up in court, including making methods of ADR, such as mediation, the default process in the majority of family law cases.
As per The Law Society Gazette, it has also been reported that plans are in place to make it easier to award substantial legal costs against parents who are thought to be abusing the court system.
The government have already made previous attempts to steer more families towards ADR, having introduced a £1 million voucher earlier in 2021, which was designed to encourage the use of mediation. This same scheme was topped up with a further £800,000 in the summer.
There are several benefits to using ADR as a way of solving family law issues, not least because cases can be solved quickly, with minimal fuss and fewer additional costs.
What is alternative dispute resolution?
Simply put, ADR is the process of negotiating and resolving a legal dispute without the need for court proceedings. Typically, ADR requires the input of both parties, their respective solicitors and, depending on the method, an independent third party such as a mediator.
What are the most common methods of alternative dispute resolution?
There are several methods of ADR that are used for a wide range of family law matters.
The most common methods are:
Private negotiations are the simplest and most cost-effective method of ADR. As you might expect, both parties have the opportunity to make an agreement between themselves without the need for any additional legal proceedings. Private negotiations tend to involve the support of a solicitor, who can attend meetings or provide legal advice during the process and after an agreement has been made.
Mediation allows both parties to work alongside a neutral third party, known as a mediator, who can assist with the negotiation process to help find a mutually acceptable solution. The mediator’s role is not to take sides or give any specific legal advice. They must remain impartial.
During collaborative law, both parties meet along with their solicitors in a four way discussion to find a resolution.
What are the benefits of using alternative dispute resolution?
There are numerous advantages to using ADR in the first instances, as opposed to heading straight to court. The benefits include:
ADR is much less formal than court proceedings. For many people, the mere prospect of heading to court can be incredibly daunting and, with ADR, this can be avoided altogether.
It can take a very long time to receive a date for a court hearing and, even once proceedings are underway, the process can become very drawn out. ADR helps to speed up the process of finding a resolution as there are much fewer waiting times and less external interference.
There is no getting around the fact that going to court can be very expensive. ADR is usually a much more cost-effective solution.
Court proceedings often serve to drive a wedge between both parties, creating unnecessary animosity and tension. This is particularly unhelpful when trying to find solutions to issues related to sensitive matters, like arrangements for children.
ADR promotes a much more collaborative approach, meaning family law issues can be resolved more amicably, ensuring important relationships are preserved wherever possible
When should you use alternative dispute resolution over going to court?
In the vast majority of circumstances, ADR should be explored before the possibility of court proceedings ever arises. If ADR proves to be unsuccessful in finding an agreement, then court proceedings may be necessary.
There are certain situations where ADR is not recommended, and court action takes place straight away. For instance, in cases related to domestic abuse, or where there are safeguarding concerns, it may not be appropriate or safe for both parties to work together.
Speak to our family law solicitors about alternative dispute resolution
If you need any advice regarding a family law matter or using ADR to resolve a potential dispute, our expert family law solicitors in West Drayton and St Albans are on hand to lend their expertise.