Last year the coalition Government proposed that there should be some major reforms to the Family Justice system. It drafted and presented to Parliament the Children and Families Bill. This was to take forward their commitment to hopefully improve the services for vulnerable children and support strong families. In our line of work, the proposals were seen as a way to deliver a better way for children and families who have to go to court after family separation.
It is hoped that this Act will help to tackle the delays that can occur with court proceedings and ensure that the children’s best interests would always be at the heart of any decision made by the court – which is exactly where they should be.
I am a great believer in trying to mediate disputes where they involve children. Parties have to understand that once you have children, the likelihood is that you are going to be in each other’s lives for the rest of your lives, whether you are happy with that arrangement or not. In these circumstances, surely it is best to try and sort things out as amicably and as quickly as possible? This will only benefit the children’s relationship with both of you. Part two of the Act makes it a requirement for a person who wants to start certain types of family proceedings to attend a family mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) to find out about and consider mediation as an alternative solution to settle disputes. In my view, this is a positive move.
Cooperative arrangements about your children
The Act specifically states that it is there to try and support parents to agree the cooperative arrangements for their children following separation. This can either be through encouraging dispute resolution services, such as family mediation, so that parties do not have to go to court, or through pushing for timely agreements when court is necessary so the process is not dragged out.
Single family court
The Crime and Courts Act 2013 introduced the single Family court which will also be operational from April 2014. This means that one court in an area will take responsibility for the issuing of all family applications in a bid to ensure that they are dealt with quickly and efficiently. Wherever, possible the same judge or magistrate will hear the case from start to finish. There is nothing worse than going into court on a third hearing in an application to find that you have a totally different judge and have to explain the case from the start again. They may have a totally different interpretation of the way that the matter should be dealt from judges in previous hearings, which again can cause problems, confusion and delay.
Another positive to come from the Children and Families Act 2014 is that courts are going to be told that they should reduce the use of excessive expert reports. These reports can take weeks or even months to obtain. This not only delays the process but can also significantly add to costs, especially if that evidence is then challenged by the other party and the expert then has to attend court.
New ‘child arrangement’ orders
The new legislation will introduce a “child arrangements order”, replacing residence and contact orders which will encourage parents to focus upon the needs of their child rather than what they see as their own “rights”. It will also make changes so courts can make full use of powers to tackle an individual when child arrangement orders are breached. This is with the aim of helping people understand the importance of complying with child arrangement orders and making them work.
Finally, the new Act streamlines the court process for divorce by removing the requirement to consider the arrangements for the children as part of these processes. In uncontested cases, this will then help delegation of judicial functions to appropriately trained legal advisors, allowing judges to focus on more difficult cases.
If you have any concerns about the proposed changes, please seek advice from one of our family law specialists.
Family Law Solicitors