Changes to child law are due to come into force next month (April) following the Children and Families Act gaining Royal Assent.
Most of the changes are scheduled to start from 22nd April, the day on which a unified family Court is also scheduled to open for the first time. The changes will mark new practice and procedure, as well as a change to the law against which orders in respect of children are made.
The Children and Families Act is set to modify aspects of both private law (such as Residence and Contact) and public law (Care Proceedings).
In private law the requirement to attend a Family Law Mediation meeting before issuing an application is strengthened and most parents will be required to undertake a Mediation meeting before they can try and involve the Courts.
The presumption that it is in a child’s best interests for both parents to remain involved in their upbringing is “beefed up” although to the disappointment of some groups, the measures have stopped short of a starting presumption of shared care and equal division of time.
One of the biggest changes in private law will be the name given to the arrangements for the division of time as between the parents’ homes. Instead of Residence and Contact the arrangements will instead be made under Child Arrangement Orders. Like the orders we have now (Residence and Contact) the orders will record when a child will be in the care of each parent, but it is hoped that removing different labels will remove a common cause of dispute and so allow more cases to settle by agreement.
In public law, there will be a time limit of 26 weeks for the future of the child to be determined, with only limited grounds for any extension. The changes will also give children in foster care the option to remain in their placement until the age of 21.
In both fields, the use of expert evidence will be restricted in the hope this will help to reduce costs and delays.
The extent to which the changes impact upon the number of cases going through the Courts, and the time those that do take, probably won’t be seen for quite some time, however it is felt by most in the family law field that the Act is certainly a positive step.
Slater and Gordon offer both flexible pricing and fixed fees for family law and divorce. For a free initial consultation call us on freephone 0800 916 9055 or contact us online and we'll be happy to help you.