Changes Ahead

Eleanor Hopwood examines some of the key changes brought about by The Children & Families Act 2014 & the Unified Family Court. A new raft of legislation is scheduled for implementation on 22 April 2014 and reforms a number of areas of the current Court systems and procedures, particularly in relation to children. Family lawyers are currently getting up to speed with the changes which will impact on the way we work and how we advise clients. Some of the key changes are as follows:
  • A single Family Court will replace the existing family jurisdictions of the county and magistrates Courts and will unify their existing procedures. It is a National Court and will be able to sit anywhere.
  • Each area will have a Designated Family Centre at one central location, from where a Designated Family Judge will operate and lead a Gatekeeping team, for allocating cases and overseeing responsibility for the area.
  • All levels of judge and magistrate will be members of the same court, i.e. they will sit as "Judges of the Family Court".
  • Family Court Centres will usually comprise one or more hub courts and their satellite hearing venues. Where possible, judges and magistrates will sit in the same buildings.
  • There are major reforms to both Public and Private Children Law.
  • There will no longer be any Statement of Arrangements to file in respect of children in divorce or civil partnership proceedings, and any issues arising will be dealt with in mediation or an application to the Court.
  • Focus on the need to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Mediation Assessment and Information meeting (MIAM) has been highlighted and the Court is now able to refuse to issue an application unless this has been undertaken or the FM1 signed off by a mediator.
  • Residence and Contact Orders will cease to exist and are replaced by Child Arrangement Orders, in a bid to remove the emphasis on the labels applied. Instead the arrangements will be expressed as 'the child lives with A' and 'spends time with B'. The ability to define contact within the order remains, as does reference to the word contact itself.
  • It will now be possible for Parental Responsibility to be granted on a temporary basis (for example whilst the child is attending for contact with Grandma) and the Court will generally be required to consider whether it's appropriate to confer on a permanent basis Parental Responsibility to any of the parties within the application who do not have it, regardless of whether a specific application has been made.
  • There will be increased emphasis on shortening the Court process where possible, and review hearings will not be ordered by the Court unless absolutely necessary.
  • There will be a new shortened financial remedy procedure for Schedule 1 proceedings under the Children Act 1989 and variation proceedings for a financial order.
  • There are a number of changes to the FPR 2010.
  • A new fees order will come into force although at the time of writing this has not been made available.
The full impact of the changes will only be felt once they are in place but the emphasis is on streamlining and modernising the Court process to improve efficiency and make it more accessible for its users. Watch this space! For further information or enquiries contact

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