Coodes Family Lawyer Ian Taylor looks at the changes to the family justice system.
Today, 22nd April 2014 sees some of the most significant changes to the family justice system in England and Wales for a generation. It is now estimated that 50% of family court users do not have a lawyer and so many people will need to understand the new processes and court forms which come into place.
- There is now a single Family Court, replacing the current three levels of court for family cases.
- Separating couples will have to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making an application to the court and can expect their application to be rejected if they don’t without good reason.
- The way children are dealt with in private family cases will change – ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ will be no more.
- The introduction of a 26 week time limit for completing care cases.
Changes to the way children are dealt with in private family cases.
There are two key developments – the introduction of the Child Arrangements Programme (CAP) and Child Arrangements Orders. Both of these are aimed at helping parents who are separating to retain focus on the needs and interests of their children.
The CAP is a new process for private law children cases through the courts. It includes measures which should encourage parents to resolve their dispute out of court where possible. Where the Court is still needed to resolve matters, cases should be resolved swiftly and without an emphasis on future review hearings.
Child Arrangements Orders:
The new Child Arrangements Orders should help encourage the involvement of both parents in the child’s upbringing, which can only be a good thing.
They mark the end of terms like ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ – which inevitably become emotive labels associated with ‘winning’ and ‘losing.’ However, given how many times we still hear the word ‘custody’ (which was actually abandoned as a legal term in 1989), there is a need for further education and change in attitude for this to work in practice.
On the 26-week time limit for care cases:
Locally almost all care cases have been concluding within 26 weeks for some time. It is essential to the children involved that cases are dealt with quickly however it is also important that those cases that do need more than 26 weeks get the time that they need in order to make sure the child’s welfare is guaranteed.
These new measures are an important step forward for family law, however there are still wider legislative reforms needed in order to improve the experience of separating couples and make the process less adversarial, including ending the need for people to blame their spouse when filing for divorce; greater protection and support for vulnerable people when their relationships break down; more work to keep people – especially parents – out of court; and laws to protect the millions of people who currently cohabit, should their relationship come to an end.