2014 changes in family law
Tuesday 22nd April 2014 was a momentous day in the world of family law.
The biggest changes to procedures in a generation came into force. But for those of you thrown, somewhat reluctantly into this daunting world, what might it mean for you?
Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs)
We’ve always believed mediation and dispute resolution can complement many family disputes, making the whole process much easier.
Now it has been made a statutory requirement for all couples to attend a ‘MIAM’ prior to making an application to court.
Of course there are still some exceptions, such as domestic violence, child protection or where a couple have previously attended a MIAM. Ultimately the court will decide whether an exemption is valid.
Alternative forms of dispute resolution can be considered at each stage of the proceedings to suit your individual case. If your case could be handled by non-court dispute resolution, the court may decide to adjourn proceedings.
The MIAM itself requires parties to consider using mediation as an alternative method for resolving disputes, instead of going straight to court. The MIAM explains the options available and assesses whether mediation would be an appropriate method.
Whilst the MIAM is not a mediation session, it does allow both parties to see how mediation may resolve their particular issue.
The Children and Families Act 2014
Care and supervision proceedings are distressing for all involved, particularly children.
These new changes hope to place children’s needs as the top priority. One way of ensuring this is through strict rules around the length of time it takes to determine the permanent provision for their care.
A 26 week time limit has been set. This can only be extended by further 8 week blocks if there is real justification - ultimately to ensure the wellbeing of the child in question.
Before these changes, care and supervision cases were taking an average of 56 weeks to complete. This effectively left children in a state of limbo during their most important developmental years.
There are some concerns that trying to speed up the process may impact negatively on a case being settled justly. Only time will tell how this new rule will work in practice.
Contact with the child after adoption must be made by application, and only by certain people (namely immediate relatives, former guardians, or those with previous parental responsibility for the child).
Contact and Residence Orders will be replaced by Child Arrangement Orders.
Unless disproved, courts have been advised that they should assume that involvement with both parents is in the best interest of the child. However the definition of ‘involvement’ is vague and does not have to suggest direct contact or the child dividing it’s time equally between the two.
Even the language used in court will change to be more ‘child focussed’.
Child Arrangement Programme (CAP)
This new programme is aimed to help families when there is a dispute between parents about the arrangements for their children.
It encourages out of court resolution in the hope it will be more child-focussed and speed up the process.
Referrals to MIAMs may be suggested throughout the process if deemed appropriate for either party. CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) will be involved from the beginning to ensure the welfare and best interests of the child are adhered to.
A new, single family court
This is probably the largest change. All family proceeding will now by dealt with in one Court, rather than the three-tier court system previously in place.
There may still be the exceptional case heard in the High Court, but these will be already ongoing, or those with a direct order stating the case should be heard in the High Court.
It is hoped this centralised centre for the Designated Family Judge will serve all geographical areas well and simplify what is currently an administrative nightmare by having one point of entry and centralised offices.
Individuals have the choice over which Designated Family Centre they choose, although once chosen, this cannot be changed. A judge will then be allocated based on the assessment of the case.
High level judges can still be used, but within the new Family Court setting and only at the specific orders of a judge at the High Court.
It goes without saying that with any sort of administrative changes comes inevitable changes to forms and the already lengthy paperwork. Don’t worry though - this is what your Solicitor is for!
What do you think?
Do you see these changes having a positive impact on family law? It’d be great to hear your opinions in the comments, below: