The future of family justice?
The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has outlined long-term plans for the creation of a database that can be used in financial remedy claims to indicate likely outcomes. This comes as part of a project to streamline just results in a court system that is increasingly struggling to deal with claims in a timely fashion. The ambitious program has already begun with the redesign of the form D81 (submitted to court when the parties agree a deal between themselves, to provide an overview of the parties’ finances before and after the agreement is implemented). The new form is designed to make it easy for numerical data to be anonymised, extracted and studied. The President, Sir Andrew McFarlane, said of the project: “…tables indicating broad trends indicating ‘norms’ for straight-forward cases may be published…so that the profession and lay parties will be better informed, and more likely to focus on a reasonable outcome, than at present when most reported cases deal only with the affairs of the mega-rich’. This is a change to be welcomed and – if and when implemented – will bring an element of transparency and certainty to financial family law, which it is currently lacking due to the very wide range of discretionary powers available to judges, and will enable the necessary legal fees to be minimised.
Another intended innovation is the assignment of more financial remedy cases into the ‘fast-track’, so that families with less than £250,000 worth of assets (not including pensions) can have their cases heard sooner and more efficiently, rather than being caught up in the same court timetables which have to make room for the (usually much lengthier) hearings of those couples with higher-value, often more evidentially complex, assets.
These proposed changes follow the April 2022 revolution in divorce law (allowing couples to divorce upon a joint application if they choose, and without one person ever needing to formally blame the other, see our blog here) and the building of a brand new IT infrastructure to support such applications being made online. It is hoped that the family court will continue to make best use of the technologies and other resources now available to it, and continue to modernise in order to deliver results for those people going through a highly emotional period in their lives.
In the meantime, other methods of streamlining an adjudicated process are worth considering, for example arbitration. Arbitration can be organised and prepared for by solicitors, and then administered by an experienced barrister trained by the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA). It will usually mirror the outline of court proceedings, but can be done much faster and can be tailored to the parties’ specific situation, cutting out administrative processes that are required of every case but may sometimes, in reality, be a waste of valuable time.
Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.