On 22 April 2014 the Children and Families Act 2014 (the “Act”) came into force. It established a new single Family Court with the aim of improving efficiency for users and also brought in a raft of other changes.
The family courts deal with issues ranging from local authority intervention and domestic violence to divorce and adoption. Although those most likely to notice the changes are the people who work closely with the family court system such as Rollingsons’ family solicitors, it will also affect the ordinary people who come into contact with it.
So why have changes been made, what are the changes and how are they likely to affect Family Court users?
Why Have Changes Been Made to the Family Justice System?
The old family justice system was described by Justice Minister Simon Hughes as a “very dysfunctional system”. In 2011 the independent Family Justice Review was published; it concluded that there were huge delays in managing family cases which were unacceptable.
The delays were causing the courts themselves to become clogged, wasting time and taxpayers’ money, and seriously impacting the lives of the children and families caught up in the system. The review offered a number of suggestions to reform the way family justice was conducted in order to cut delays and improve the way it worked.
The main outcome was the passing of the Children and Families Act 2014 (the “Act”) which received royal assent on 13 March 2014 and came into force on 22 April 2014.
What Changes Have Been Made to the Family Justice System under the Act?
The creation of a single Family Court is just one of a number of changes that has occurred to make the system more efficient. It goes hand in hand with a wider desire to focus on putting the welfare of children first and to encourage families to use other forms of dispute resolution before resorting to court.
Important changes include:
· Requiring individuals involved in family cases to attend a meeting to find out about mediation before they can make certain applications to the Family Court. Circumstances might include disputes arising over arrangements for child care or disputes over finances.
· Streamlining the court process for divorce and dissolution of civil partnerships by removing the requirement that child care arrangements are considered as part of the proceedings.
· Focusing on the needs of children rather than the rights of parents by replacing ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ orders with ‘child arrangement orders’.
· Placing a 26-week time limit on care and supervision cases (with judicial discretion to extend) to speed up the process of finding a permanent placement for children.
· Limiting the use of expert evidence in cases involving children except where necessary to resolve a case justly.
The reforms mark a fundamental cultural change to the operation of the family justice system but it will take time to see the full effects of the changes in practice. For more information about how it might affect you or to discuss an family related matter please contact Jeetesh Patel via e- mail JPatel@rollingsons.co.uk or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.