With the introduction of new Court Rules for the progression of Family Law cases in the Circuit Family Court, Ken Heffernan, Family Law solicitor, Cork, looks at how the new rules will affect Family Law clients.
The new Family Law Rules, which came into effect from 1 October 2008, are intended to provide a certain focus and impetus to Family Law proceedings that many clients and practitioners have noted has been lacking previously. The Family Law Rules intend to do this by providing for case supervision and progression by County Registrars when it comes to the preparation for trial of Family Law proceedings in the Circuit Family Court. The Family Law Rules state that the purpose of case progression will be to ensure that proceedings are prepared for trial in a manner which is just, expeditious and likely to minimise the costs of the proceedings and that the time and other resources of the court are employed optimally.
The new Family Law Rules will apply to cases commenced after 1 October but they will not apply to existing cases. Welcoming the new Family Law Rules, Ken says that this is a useful development for Family Law clients and practitioners eager to have their case dealt with by the court system in a fair and efficient manner. Ken comments that the new Family Law Rules Rules are similar in tone to the Divorce Rules in England & Wales, where the concept of judicial control and case progression for Family Law matters has been to the forefront since 2000. The position in England & Wales prior to 2000 was similar to that in Ireland up to now in that there was little up front court direction or compulsion on the parties to provide complete, vouched statements of means in a timely manner. That changed in 2000 and the courts now play a more active role in progressing divorce cases there.
While the new Irish Family Law Rules Rules do not make changes as far reaching as those introduced in Engalnd & Wales in 2000 they make 3 important changes to the handling of a Family Law case in the Circuit Family Court:
- Firstly, outside the Dublin Circuit, applications for Judgment in Default of Appearance or Defence will be returnable before the County Registrar to be dealt with through case progression hearings.
- Secondly, it will now be necessary for both parties to provide documentary evidence to support the financial information given in their Affidavit of Means. A non-exhaustive list of relevant vouching documentation required is set out in the new Form 37L, Summons to Attend Case Progression Hearing. If there is a dispute as to supporting documentary evidence this will be raised before the County Registrar at a case progression hearing.
- Thirdly, and most importantly the Rules introduce the concept of “case progression” in Circuit Family Court proceedings. The County Registrar will set a date for a case progression hearing at which orders for the timetabling of the case to a final hearing will be made. The Rules also introduce a detailed “case progression questionnaire” which must be completed and exchanged by both parties prior to the case progression hearing and will serve to identify the issues in dispute between the parties. The first case progression hearing will take place not later than 70 days after the filing of the Respondent’s Defence, Affidavit of Means and Affidavit of Welfare. The solicitors dealing with the case on both sides must be in attendance at all case progression hearings and the County Registrar may also direct that the parties to the proceedings should also attend. In practice this will be a very important hearing and it is Ken’s view that the client’s attendance will be required so that instructions can be taken in relation to the issues that will arise at the hearing. The County Registrar may also award costs incurred in connection with case progression hearings and failure to prepare for the hearing could have adverse cost implications for a client.
The new Family Law Rules also make small amendments to several existing Circuit Family Court Forms, and introduce new Forms necessitated by the introduction of case progression.
Ken Heffernan welcomed the introduction of the new Family Law Rules and says that he believes that they will promote a more efficient Family Law court system and that is good news for clients, practitioners and the courts.