On 29 April 2024, a new court form was introduced which is now required to be filed by all parties issuing proceedings in the family court, for either financial or children’s orders.

The form is known as an ‘FM5’ and asks litigants about their involvement in, and views towards, non-court (i.e. private) dispute resolution (‘NCDR’), in lieu of issuing court proceedings. The information requested by the court is, in summary:

  1. Whether the parties have attended NCDR in relation to the current dispute;
  2. If so, why the application was required to be made despite attending at NCDR; and
  3. If not, why NCDR was not attempted.

NCDR is, nowadays, far broader than simply mediation and there are several options available to parties seeking to proceed down this route, such as:

  1. Arbitration, which is similar to the concept of a ‘trial’ or final hearing in court, however a privately-funded, jointly-appointed arbitrator acts as decision maker, whose decision is thereafter binding on the parties, just like a court order;
  2. Mediation, where an independent mediator is appointed by the parties to facilitate discussions between the parties in an attempt to reach agreement as to a potential settlement; or
  3. Collaborative law where typically, parties are legally represented at a round-table conference and, similar to a mediation, discussions are held with a view to resolving the matter in terms the parties have agreed on.

The FM5 seems to encourage court users to give real consideration to making a genuine attempt to resolve their family law dispute within NCDR, thereby avoiding the stress, cost (both financial and emotional) and delay associated with litigation. Typically, parties can expect to wait up to two years, sometimes more, from the date of filing their application for a final decision to be made.

It appears the purpose of the FM5 is not to criticise parties for not engaging in NCDR, but rather to offer the court further insight and context as to why the same has not gone ahead or been successful, so that they can better explore whether it can be of benefit moving forward.

There are a myriad of reasons why this may be the case – examples include:

  1. Due to allegations of domestic violence, one party may not feel wholly safe and/or comfortable attending;
  2. Circumstances of urgency, such as one party making an imminent threat to unilaterally dispose of an asset or abscond with the parties’ children;
  3. One party (typically the applicant in the proceedings) may have invited the other party to attend NCDR, and that party has refused to engage; or
  4. The mediator determined that the matter was not suitable to proceed. 

The requirement for the filing of the FM5 form applies to all family law proceedings issued on or after 29 April 2024 – those issued prior to this date are exempt from filing the form. However, parties should still be prepared to provide an explanation to the court as to the extent (if any) of their engagement in NCDR throughout the course of their family law matter, which is beneficial for a number of reasons, including:

  1. It may allow the matter to be resolved, and the parties to therefore sever all financial ties and move forward with their respective lives (in the event of a finances matter), much quicker than in the event they were awaiting a date for a final court hearing;
  2. The parties’ matter is kept much more private and ‘between themselves’, as opposed to one, or several, judges becoming involved;
  3. If an agreement is able to be reached privately, parties typically feel satisfied about the outcome as they have ‘had a say in’ and control over, what they have agreed for the settlement to be, versus awaiting a court order which may not align with their views and wishes; and
  4. Most significantly, the legal costs associated with litigation are avoided, which in some cases, could exceed £50,000 or more.

In the event you require assistance with or have any questions about NCDR, family court proceedings or a family law matter as a whole, please contact Paul Robinson Solicitors and we would be happy to assist you.