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Family Law Update: Implications of the Children and Families Bill 2013

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Children and Families Bill 2013 has just undergone the Public Reading stage. Its primary purpose is to provide more support for working families and vulnerable children. The Bill has a number of implications for family law and some aspects of employment law.

Adoption and Children Looked After by Local Authorities

The Bill contains proposals to speed up the adoption process for children where initiatives such as “Fostering for Adoption” placements by local authorities are available. It seeks the removal of bottlenecks such as the ethnicity of a child, which has delayed the adoption of children. It also aims to enable more proactive searching by prospective adopters by loosening rules on the public inspection of the adoption register.

Special Educational Needs

The Bill extends the rights of children and parents of children with special educational needs by giving them more control over the support provided by local authorities such as choosing their own school.

The Bill also introduces mediation as a means of dispute resolution to reduce Tribunal appeals and it enables children to make an appeal directly to the Tribunal without going through their parents.

Family Justice

Under private family law, mandatory mediation is introduced as a means of dispute resolution before family proceedings are commenced. The Bill emphasises the need for parents, even though separated, to remain involved in their children’s lives where it is safe and benefits the children’s welfare.

Also contained in the Bill is a child arrangement order created to replace contact and residence orders. A breach of this order can be dealt with by the court through a direction that the parties undertake activities to reinforce the importance of the principle behind the order.

The need for expert evidence in family proceedings will be restricted to situations where it is necessary to resolve the case justly and safeguard the child’s welfare. Court processes in respect of divorce, nullity of marriage or judicial separation will also been streamlined.

Under public family law, the Bill sets a maximum limit of 26 weeks to conclude care and supervision proceedings with possible extension. It removes the fixed time restrictions on interim care and supervision orders while allowing the court to stipulate the time it deems fit.

Statutory Rights to Leave and Pay

The Bill creates a new right of shared parental leave and statutory shared parental pay for eligible working parents. Women’s rights remain the same but where they choose to end their maternity leave early, they can share the balance of their leave and pay with their partners. It also extends this right to eligible adopters and parents in a surrogacy arrangement.

The Bill introduces unpaid time off work to attend two ante-natal appointments for mothers and their partners. In recognition of adopting parents, paid and unpaid time for prospective adopters to secure adoption is provided. Flexible working request can also be made by parents or carers but through existing HR processes with their employers.

There are other proposals relating to child-minder agencies and the office of the Children’s Commissioner but it is yet to be seen if the Bill will be subjected to a major amendment or passed into law in its current state.

If you would like to discuss the implications of the Children and Families Bill 2013 or you need advice in relation to other family law issues, Rollingsons has experienced solicitors who can advise you; please contact Jeetesh Patel via e- mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.

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