The pressure on the Family Courts is increasing and it would appear that the system is at bursting point. Family Solicitors are experiencing severe delays in paperwork being processed by the Court and parties can see themselves waiting several months for a hearing. This results in Family Solicitors having to increase their time estimates for how long it will take to conclude a matter. For example, just a few years ago it would take 2-3 months to get to the Decree Nisi stage of a Divorce. However, a more realistic time frame now would be 6-9 months. Furthermore, parties often face higher costs by issuing proceedings. As a result, many clients ask us whether there are alternative ways to resolve disputes without having to go to Court. If clients wish to divorce they will still have to issue a Petition at Court (even if the Court introduces no-fault divorce) and there will always be certain cases which are best dealt with by the Court e.g. domestic abuse, financial misconduct etc. However, there is a growing movement towards pursuing different ways of settling disputes out of Court. It is already a requirement under Section 10(1) of the Children and Families Act 2014 to attend a family mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) before making many family applications. There are now a number of methods of alternative dispute resolution:

  • Mediation – a trained mediator will assist both parties in obtaining the relevant information and working together to reach a resolution. This often works best when the parties obtain legal advice during the process as mediators are not legal advisers.
  • Negotiation – You could try negotiating between yourselves. However, if you require additional support you can ask your Solicitor to assist you either by providing advice in the background or negotiating on your behalf.
  • Collaboration – you both instruct collaboratively trained Solicitors and sign an agreement to not attend Court. Face to face meetings occur with all parties (including their representatives) and everyone works together to try and reach a resolution.
  • Arbitration – you instruct an arbitrator (normally a barrister) to make a decision on the issues in dispute. If it is a small point you can ask them to deal with it via correspondence and documentation or, if necessary, the parties can attend an Arbitration hearing.

You can often use a combination of the above options in order to reach an agreement. However, which method is best for you will depend on an individual’s circumstances and personal preferences. Once an agreement has been reached you can send an agreed Order to the Court for approval (save for certain cases such as children disputes). If you would like further advice on the options available to you and the best way to resolve any difficulties you are experiencing in your relationship please speak to a member of our Family Department, either Rebecca Bye, Lachlan Donaldson or Robert Green on 01622 759051 or email​