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22 April 2014

The new single Family Court and the Children and Families Act 2014

Today, the new single Family Court comes into being and most of the family justice provisions from the Children and Families Act 2014 take effect.  The legislation has been described as "the largest for a generation".

Emma Alfieri, from Steeles Law’s family team, comments that these reforms bring about the introduction of a new single Family Court in England and Wales, intended to make the system easier, less confusing, to provide greater flexibility and to avoid delay.

The new Family Court is designed to ensure that the right level of Judge is appointed for a particular case, in the most suitable location.  The idea being that this will reduce unnecessary delays caused by cases being transferred between Courts.

The most significant changes apply to matters concerning public law and care.  The idea is that the reforms will result in a swifter system and give greater certainty to the children involved.

In respect of private children law matters, child arrangements replace contact and residence orders.

Emma commented that there has already been a lot of media coverage about the changes and the focus to the general public appears to be about mediation.  This is in view of the fact that the Children and Families Act includes provision that parties wishing to go to Court in respect of a child dispute, or in relation to financial matters upon divorce, have to attend compulsory mediation before they may do so.  However, Emma adds that in this respect little has changed, as in recent years family mediation has been compulsory to most in any event.  Whilst family lawyers have actively been promoting mediation for some years, until now the general public appeared unaware of this option which could explain the mediation focus.

There are two practical points of note, which the public should be aware of:

  1. Legal Aid is available to assist with the costs of mediation (for those that qualify).  For further information visit:  https://claonlineadvice.justice.gov.uk/about-cla.aspx
  2. Some media reports are suggesting that parties seeking family law advice have to attend a session of mediation before they may consult a lawyer.  This is certainly not the case.  The situation remains the same as before, in that anyone wishing to seek legal advice may contact a lawyer at any point.

For further information regarding the changes, please contact us.

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