By Hugh Logue, Newswatch Editor
The Family Procedure Rules 2010 come into force today along with the various Practice Directions and Forms.
The biggest changes are in family mediation. From today, anyone wishing to apply to the court, either for an order in relation to their children or an order in relation to their finances during the course of a divorce will have to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. The Mediator has to explain to that person what mediation has to offer and has to explore with them whether mediation would or would not be suitable.
Although the rules have been broadly welcomed, family lawyers are concerned that the mediation measures have been introduced too quickly, with all the guidance and forms only having been released to the profession in the last couple of weeks.
Amy Harris a family solicitor with Cheshire law firm Myers Lister Price Solicitors commented: "The courts service and many of the online legal form providers have not had sufficient time to update their systems which creates a challenge as we are required to submit some of the new forms to court from today."
The family solicitors' association Resolution says that in the rush to introduce mediation measures other non-court options have been overlooked, including collaborative law, parenting information programmes and solicitor negotiation.
David Allison, chair of Resolution, said: "Mediation is a hugely valuable option for some separating couples, so increased awareness of it as a non-court option is good news. But the government has rushed headlong into these changes in an unplanned way, which has led to some worrying flaws.
"Anyone can set themselves up as a mediator and the lack of a guarantee of the quality of mediators could leave some couples who lack a solicitor's advice ending up in the hands of unregulated or untrained, rogue mediators. There may also be a shortage of properly trained mediators given the new demand."
Mr Allison added: "The government's rushed changes to family law seem motivated by a desire to steer people away from professional legal advice. This is misguided, because a good solicitor will always discuss mediation and other non-court approaches with clients - which is one reason why 90 per cent of parents currently settle out of court."
A further concern is whether expert witnesses understand the new requirements that the rules place on them. Mark Solon, a solicitor at Bond Solon warned: "These are the most significant developments in the procedure of the family courts for twenty years and replace all existing rules. Few experts are aware of this or have undergone necessary training. If experts don't know what they are doing, they can now be sued or may face professional disciplinary proceedings or worst of all justice will not be done."
In addition to the updates to our main publications, Family Law has put together an online navigation package comprising the rules, practice directions and forms plus destination and derivation tables and a succinct guide. It's available now, free to existing Family Law Online subscribers, or at a cost of £30 to non-subscribers. For more information, click here.
For ease of use, Family Law Newswatch has amalgamated all the FPR forms and practice directions. The Family Procedure Rules 2010 can be downloaded here, the practice directions can be accessed here and the forms can be found here.