New legal system reforms designed to fast track settlement of financial issues for divorcing couples are to be introduced according to a recent announcement by the country’s foremost family law judge.
President of the High Court’s Family Division, Sir James Munby, will shortly publish draft rules which will enable divorcing couples to go to arbitration to reach agreements over their finances, and only have these agreements later confirmed in court.
Sir James wrote to family lawyers to detail changes to the system which will create an new family court in April, and stated that he wants to develop the use of arbitration and similar methods as a way of sorting out family law disputes. The judge added that he plans to make a draft ruling on arbitration based on what happened in the S v S case, concerning a couple who separated after 26 years of marriage in 2012. The divorce proceeded to the decree nisi stage, and then Sir James agreed to refer the couple to arbitration to reach a financial settlement to split the assets of between £1.5 million and £2 million. Only 8 weeks elapsed between the agreement to go to arbitration and the issuing of the ward, the couple have been able to preserve their anonymous status, and costs on both sides have been considerably reduced.
This judgement will be welcomed by anyone working in the family law sector as it shows the many advantages to arbitration. It also should build confidence among the profession in going to arbitration to resolve a dispute.
Most family lawyers would agree that something needs to be done to speed up the court system – a combination of the removal of legal aid from almost all family law cases, plus an ongoing series of extensive court funding cuts and closures, have led to an increasing delay and backlog in the court system, which is the last thing that most families need when they’re trying to resolve their legal issues.
Having said that, whilst we welcome the proposals, and we are big fans of both family mediation and collaborative law as highly effective ways of resolving many family law disputes, arbitration, like these to other forms of alternative dispute resolution, only works for those people who are willing to cooperate with each other. This government, in their understandable wish to cut the financial costs of divorce, don’t seem to appreciate sufficiently that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink – the same applies to family mediation. It works really well – but only for those people who want it– you simply can’t force mediation or arbitration on unwilling parties.
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