On 22nd April 2014, the most important reforms in family law for a generation according to Lord Justice Munby, President of the Family Division, came into force. By virtue of the new Children and Families Act 2014 the terms “residence” and “contact” disappear, to be replaced by “a child arrangement order”.
At first sight this looks like very good news because the old terms (a lot of people still use custody and access of course) can be emotive and divisive. But on closer inspection, when you come to defining what the child arrangements are, there will still be reference to where the child shall live as well the contact the child shall have with the other parent. There is scope for using more neutral terminology such as “the child shall spend time with the father…” in place of the much abused term “contact”, but the changes are not as far-reaching as family lawyers had hoped for.
There is also a new Practice Direction requiring applicants to children cases to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before they can come to court. The other parent will be invited to attend but doesn’t have to and the Applicant parent can avoid mediation for limited reasons, such as a history of domestic violence.
Mediation is meant to sift out all but the most intractable cases from the court process, and give the court some breathing space from the flood of litigants in person resulting from the ending of legal aid. But because it is not compulsory for both sides, the Practice Direction is unlikely to have much impact.
Getting the arrangements for your children right on separation must be one of the most important things you can do in a relationship breakdown and instructing a family law specialist, even at a cost to your pocket, is going to be worth the investment.
Friday, May 23rd, 2014 Children