The Children and Families Act 2014 and the Unified Family Court came into effect on the 22nd April 2014. This has also brought about the establishment of the Family Court which will now deal with all family cases.
The Family Court will have both High Court and County Court jurisdiction; in addition the Family Proceedings Court (formerly Magistrates) will no longer exist. All family matters currently dealt within the County Court will be dealt within the Family Court. The Family Court has broadly the power to make any order which could be made by the High Court or a County Court.
Another change brought about by The Children and Families Act 2014 is the new Child Arrangements Programme (CAP). This applies where a dispute arises between separated parents and/or families about the arrangements concerning children. The CAP is designed to assist families to reach safe agreements where possible out of a court environment. If parents/families are unable to reach agreement then a court application will have to be made. CAP encourages swift resolution of the dispute through the court therefore the concepts of residence, contact and prohibited steps are now absorbed under CAP. Parties are encouraged to use various forms of alternative dispute resolution such as mediation or collaborative law. There will be occasions when mediation may not be appropriate such as when there are allegations of, and issues relating to, domestic abuse.
In addition the parties are now encouraged to develop a parenting plan which will enable them to work out the best arrangements for the children. In order to make an application to the court for an order the proposed applicant or their solicitor must contact a family mediator and arrange an appointment for a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Unless the case falls into any of the mediation exemptions, a certificate in FM1 will need to be obtained before any application can be made in either children arrangements proceedings or financial proceedings in divorce.
Another new development based on the new Child Arrangements Programme is that it is no longer necessary to file a separate form setting out the statement of arrangements for children in divorce proceedings. It will be expected that the parties will agree these arrangements and notify the court when they file their petition.
It is also important to note that where at least one party is eligible for public funding from the Legal Aid Agency to cover the funding a MIAM meeting the Legal Aid Agency will cover the costs of both parties MIAM so as to encourage any non eligible party to find out about the benefits of suitability of mediation without incurring costs.
If you require any assistance/advice as a result of reading this blog, please contact the author, Paul Montgomery, a family law solicitor based at our Colne office on 01282 862 000/07977280334.