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Non-Court Dispute Resolution

Non-court dispute resolution refers to the variety of ways people can resolve a family dispute without attending court. The main advantage is that it is generally more cost effective than contested court proceedings, and the parties have greater control of the timetable for resolving their dispute. The method best for you will depend on your circumstances, which is why we explain the pros and cons of all the non-court dispute resolution methods so you can make an informed decision.

Non-court dispute resolution is not suitable for everyone, especially for people in a situation of high conflict, if there are concerns about misleading or incomplete financial disclosure, where there are safeguarding issues relating to the children of the family, or where there is domestic abuse.

If parties issue court proceedings and are unable to show that they tried to reach an out-of-court resolution either at the outset or during proceedings, the Family Court judges are far more likely to adjourn court proceedings to “encourage” parties to try non-court resolution methods and are more likely to make costs orders in financial cases against parties who fail to do so.

Below is a summary of the most common non-court disputes resolution methods:

  • Mediation with a Mediator
    This process involves both parties attending mediation with a trained mediator with a view to reaching agreement. The mediator is entirely independent of both parties and is simply there to guide the discussions. Mediators do not give legal advice. The discussions are without prejudice, which means they cannot be brought to the attention of the court in any subsequent court proceedings. Any agreement reached at mediation is not legally binding but may form the basis of a legally binding agreement which is drafted by the parties’ lawyers following mediation. Although lawyers cannot be present at mediation, our role is to assist you with the mediation process by providing you with legal advice to assist your negotiations at mediation. If agreement is reached at mediation, we draft the necessary legally binding agreements and submit them to court for approval where applicable.

  • Supported Mediation
    Supported mediation, also known as lawyer-supported or lawyer-assisted mediation, aims to integrate the contributions of the parties’ lawyers as well as the parties themselves. Each party appoints their own lawyer to provide independent and confidential advice on the law and the implications of proposed agreements discussed with the mediator. Both parties and their lawyers attend mediation sessions together. The discussions are without prejudice, which means they cannot be brought to the attention of the court in any subsequent court proceedings. Any agreement reached is not legally binding but may form the basis of a legally binding agreement which is drafted by the parties’ lawyers at, or shortly after, mediation concludes.                                                                                                                                                             

  • Early Neutral Evaluation
    The purpose of Early Neutral Evaluation is to provide the parties with a preliminary view on their case by assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case. The parties jointly select an independent, impartial expert evaluator to provide the preliminary view. The evaluator is often a senior lawyer, barrister, judge, retired judge, or King’s Counsel (KC). The parties attend the Early Neutral Evaluation with their respective lawyers. The evaluator hears submissions from both parties and offers their considered opinion on the likely outcome if the matter was dealt with in court proceedings. This enables the parties to form a view on whether the outcome they are seeking is realistic, and the opinion can then inform future negotiations as to settlement of the case. The view of the evaluator is without prejudice, which means it cannot be brought to the attention of the court in any subsequent court proceedings. The evaluator’s view is not legally binding however, the parties may formally agree to be bound by the decision of the evaluator to avoid lengthy negotiations thereafter, or they can just use the evaluator’s opinion to guide their future negotiations and any settlement.

  • Family Arbitration
    In family arbitration, a specialist arbitrator (a private judge) is appointed by the parties to resolve a dispute instead of a judge within court proceedings. Family arbitration is appropriate for disputes in relation to finances following the breakdown of a relationship, marriage, or civil partnership. It can also be used in disputes relating to children in respect of how much time the children should spend with each parent, other arrangements concerning the upbringing of children (e.g. their schooling or the change of a name), moving children to live in a different part of the United Kingdom, taking them abroad temporarily (for holidays or schooling), or moving them permanently to a different country (where the proposed country is a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention). Rules permitting the reporting of family law cases do not apply to arbitration - the entire process is fully confidential. It is a voluntary process, and parties must agree to resolve their dispute via the arbitration process. Once parties sign up to the arbitration process, they are bound to it. An arbitrator can make both interim and final decisions and their decision is binding on the parties. It can be made an order of the court and can be enforced if a party subsequently breaches it. If an arbitrator’s decision is disagreed with by either party, it can be appealed in the same as a court order can be appealed.

  • Collaborative Law
    Collaborative law is a legal process which involves both parties signing a contract to bind each other to work together on a settlement and agree not to take matters to court. Each party appoints their own lawyer but, instead of conducting negotiations by letter or telephone, the parties have several meetings together with their respective lawyers (called a 4-way meeting) with a view to reaching an agreement. The process is not driven by a timetable imposed by the court and is built around the parties’ individual timetable. Once agreement is reached, the parties’ lawyers draft the relevant document containing the terms of agreement, which is submitted to court for approval. The parties are not required to attend court throughout the whole process. This process is more cost effective compared to cases at court which proceed to final hearing. We are not collaborative lawyers, but we can guide you on how to locate and instruct one.

Manor Law Ltd, trading as Manor Law Family Solicitors, is a registered company in England and Wales - number 07977350, and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority - Hertford office SRA number 567506 and City of London office SRA number 568637. Copyright © Manor Law, 2016. All rights reserved.

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