The judgment in Rochford v Rochford [2020] is not yet widely available, but the lawyers acting in the case have provided details online which highlight the importance of parties meaningfully entering into alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to resolve disputes.

Reports of the case advise that the claimant was an adult child of the deceased. Under the terms of her late father’s will, she received a £25,000 legacy. However, she advanced a claim pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for further provision due to her disability and income shortfall and argued that the amount she had been bequeathed would not suffice to cover her maintenance needs.

The claimant offered to attend mediation to try to resolve the dispute, but the defendants refused on the basis that they considered the claim to lack merit and felt additional disclosure was necessary.

The case proceeded to trial and the judge awarded the claimant an additional £85,000 from the estate. The value of the residuary estate totalled approximately £193,000. As such, the award made equated to over 44% of the residuary estate.

The judge was reportedly unimpressed that a claim against a relatively modest estate had found its way to trial and blamed the tactical delay by the defendants in refusing to attend mediation.

Unsurprisingly, the defendant's refusal to mediate led to the judge to order that the costs were payable on the punitive indemnity basis in addition to interest and an additional penalty of 10% of the judgment amount. The award in relation to costs was meant to penalise the defendants and serves as an example to all parties that it is very important to meaningfully engage in ADR.

The courts actively encourage the parties to enter into ADR to settle claims without involving the courts. Mediation is a form of ADR and is incredibly effective at assisting the parties to reach a settlement. Cases that involve family disputes regarding estates are often very emotional and the parties can become entrenched in their position through no fault of their own. It is the role of the lawyers instructed to strongly encourage settlement and advise as to the risks of refusing to do so.