2013 was a year of huge change for family law. In April 2013 Legal Aid was withdrawn for the vast majority of those seeking divorces and dealing with disputes about finances and children following the breakdown of their relationship. This led to a massive increase in the number of unrepresented parties at court and a significant reduction in court cases, in particular applications to determine where children live and spend their time.
2014 was another year of massive change, this time in the law itself and court procedure. Almost all these changes happened in April.
-The unified family court was introduced, uniting the magistrates who sat at the Family Proceedings Court with the Judges in the County Court, and making the local court the branch of the one national court, instead of the notionally separate courts they were before. The biggest practical change for parents has that now applications go before a judge or Legal Advisor immediately for ‘gatekeeping’ and the case is allocated to either District Judges or Magistrates. We have witnessed a large increase in the number of cases being heard by magistrates as a consequence.
-Residence Orders and Contact Orders became Child Arrangements Orders.
Positive: the new terminology further reduced any sense of one parent ‘winning custody’, and put the child’s experiences to the forefront. Negative: A lot of time and effort to introduce clunky wording that doesn’t change very much. -A more significant change for many was that it became mandatory for applicants for financial remedy on divorce and Child Arrangements Orders to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before issuing their application, unless certain exemptions apply.
Positive: It has certainly promoted mediation and encouraged more separated couples to reach an agreement outside of court proceedings, Negative: for others where the other person is not willing to engage in mediation it has only added another hoop to jump through; adding further cost and further delay before the court can resolve the dispute. -In October 2014 section 1 of the Children Act 1989 was amended to include a new subsection stating that the court should “to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of [both parents] in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare”. This is a welcome, albeit more insignificant change than it appears. The courts have presumed this for a long time, but it is helpful to have it within the statute so that this presumption is clearly stated. The statute makes clear that if involvement would put the child at risk, the presumption does not hold, and the presumption does not mean that time should be shared equally.
You can find more information on our family law services here and child care services here. You can also call us on 033 03001103 or use our request a call back service.