Putting Our Children First - Changes to Family Law
There have been very substantial changes to the law that affects families since the Children and Families Act 2014 and the Child Arrangement Programme came into force in April.
The main changes are that
1. It is now compulsory to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MAIMs) before being able to make an application the Court to deal with any issues concerning children except when the applications relate to Domestic Violence or Child Protection Issues or previously attended a MAIM or the matter is urgent. This does not mean you have to attend mediation as the meeting is to tell you about mediation and if you do not think it is for you, it is not necessary to take it any further.
2. In the past the court would make an Order for Residence and Contact. Not any more. The Court now makes a Child Arrangement Order and in that states which parent or other person the child lives with and how much time they spend with parents or other people.
3. There is now a presumption that it is in a child’s best interests for both parents to remain involved in a child’s life even if they have separated. This applies when any parent or other person connected to a child makes an application to define arrangements for a child or where an application is made for parental responsibility (all rights and duties of a parent).
Involvement is defined as ‘involvement of some kind, either direct or indirect but not any particular division of a child’s time’
However, this presumption may not apply if, where there is evidence before the Court that a parent’s involvement in the child’s life would put the child at risk of suffering serious harm whatever the form of involvement.
Another major change which came in to effect was the introduction of The Single Family Court
This means that all children cases, divorce, and all cases where divorcing couples have to resolve finances, are heard in the Family Court. The only exceptions where a High Court judge will be involved, will be in relation to wardship, incapacitated or vulnerable adults or international cases involving applications where there is a dispute which involves a foreign country, for example if a child has been abducted.
There will be different judges who will decide cases depending on how complex they are. When a case starts, it will be allocated a particular level of judge but that can change during the case.
It is hoped that the new arrangements and law will make dealing with the court a lot easier particularly as legal aid is not available for many cases where there is a dispute between parents or for divorce.
Mediation is being encouraged by the government and Machins Solicitors LLP provides legal services and out of court dispute resolution for families through Bridging Point.