Family Law Changes April 2014
April 2014 sees a number of changes in the way Courts will deal with family cases especially cases relating to children. There are 3 main changes which come into effect on 22nd April 2014. They are as follows:-
A single Family Court.
Child Arrangement Orders.
1. A Single Family Court
For most people this will, in fact, have little effect. Until now both the County Court and Family Proceedings Court (usually known as the Magistrates Court) have dealt with family cases. There will now be one court called the Family Court dealing with most family cases but the case could be dealt with by Magistrates or by a Judge as before.
In relation to any application made after 22nd April 2014 the person making the application will have to send to the Court a form (called an FM1) signed by a Family Mediator to say that they have been to a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (known as a MIAM) with a Family Mediator. The purpose of this is to make sure that before making an application to a Court the person who is applying has understood and considered whether it may be possible to resolve the dispute through mediation rather than through the Court. If this has not happened the Court will not issue the application.
This relates to both children cases and cases relating to financial disputes on divorce.
3. Child Arrangement Orders
Many people will remember the concepts of “Custody” and “Access” in relation to children. These terms were abandoned in 1989 and in their place the terms “Residence” and “Contact” were brought in.
A Residence Order is an order which states who a child is to live with and a Contact Order states how much time a child is to spend with someone who does not have a Residence Order or what other contact they should have with a child. Now the terms “Residence” and “Contact” are also to be abandoned and are replaced with Child Arrangement Orders.
A Child Arrangement Order will state with whom a child should live, spend time or otherwise have contact and when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person. This means that the concept of a child living with one parent and spending time with the other will no longer be recognised by the Family Court but instead the Court will consider what time the child should spend with each parent.
Another new concept coming into effect on 22nd April 2014 is that the Family Court will make an assumption in considering family cases that it is in a child’s interest for both parents to have an involvement with the child. That does not mean that it will always be the case that the Court will decide that a parent should have face to face contact with a child but the starting point will be that it is better for a child to have involvement in some way with both parents. That is not to say that the time spent with each parent should be equal and, of course, the Family Court will consider in what way a parent can be involved with a child which is safe and does not put the child at risk of significant harm.
Wolferstans has a dedicated, specialist and experienced Family Department. Please contact us with any questions about any of these changes coming into effect this month.