On 22 April 2014 the Children and Families Act came into force.

The Act followed a review of the whole family justice system in 2012 when it was decided everything was too complicated and slow. Basically the government decided children and families were not getting the service they deserved.

The review panel spent a year talking to children, parents and people working in the family justice system and concluded:

  • Children are the most important people in the family justice system
  • Cases take far too long with children often waiting well over a year for their future to be settled
  • There needs to be a change to the whole structure with better management to ensure the system can cope with the pressures.  More issues need to be diverted away from the court where appropriate.

One of the biggest changes is instead of separate magistrates, county and high courts there is a Unified Family Court.  The plan is one judge will hear a case from start to finish to ensure continuity and at every stage the court must progress the case in a meaningful way.

The case will be heard in one of the branches of the Unified Court, probably the closest branch to where the applicant or child lives and this decision will be made by the court not the applicant as has happened in the past.

Another major change is before a case can even begin families are being encouraged to resolve matters through mediation.  In most cases the court will want evidence the applicant has attended a family mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) before even issuing an application.

Once at court the only order now will be a Child Arrangements Order. Contact and residence orders do not exist anymore. The new type of order will deal with the arrangements as to ‘with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact’ and ‘when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person’. (Note the use of the word person rather than parent). It is also presumed, unless the contrary is shown, that the involvement of each parent in a child’s life will further the child’s welfare.  Involvement can be direct or indirect and does not mean a particular division of time between parents.  Essentially therefore if a child is not at risk of suffering harm by being involved with a parent a Child Arrangement Order will probably be made.

The political idea behind all of this is to send a message to parents about the valuable role they both play in a child’s life.

Beecham Peacock solicitors in Newcastle can advise on all aspects of Family Law.  Call us on 0191 2323048 or email fionaryans@beechampeacock.co.uk

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