On the 22nd April 2014 the Family Justice System was faced with a major overhaul which affected all areas of family and children law. The changes aim to reduce delays and put children’s needs at the centre of the process.
Some of the key changes include:
> The introduction of a new single Family Court in England and Wales which will deal with the majority of family proceedings;
> Residence Orders and Contact Orders cease to exist and have been replaced by Child Arrangement Orders. Child Arrangement Orders will regulate with whom a child is to live with, spend time with or otherwise have contact with;
> It is compulsory to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making an application to court for all family matters, unless you are exempt;
> Child care and supervision proceedings, currently take an average of 56 weeks. These are to be completed within 26 weeks.
What is a MIAM
A MIAM is a meeting that allows someone to meet individually with a mediator and receive information in regards to the mediation process. This enables them to make an informed choice as to whether they wish to take part in the mediation. An invite will also be sent to the other party, inviting them to attend a mediation meeting. It is also an opportunity for the mediator to asses if mediation is the correct method to resolve matters for both parties.
If neither party wishes to engage in the process or the mediator does not feel that it is appropriate, the mediator will provide the parties with a document to pass to their solicitor, which will enable them to then make an application to the court.
The Judges and court staff have received training following the changes implemented on the 22nd April and if parties do not attend a MIAM and they are not entitled to claim an exemption, any application submitted will be rejected. Even if the application is accepted and the matter is listed before court, the court has the power to adjourn the hearing for 12 weeks for parties to attend mediation to resolve matters.
Child Arrangement Orders
As a result of the changes the terms ‘Residence’ and ‘Contact’ are something of the past. The intention of the change is not, as people have assumed, to encourage ‘shared parenting’ but are aimed at encouraging the involvement of each parent in the life of the child. This will hopefully further the child’s welfare and include both parents’ involvement, either indirect or direct, but not necessarily detail any particular division of the child’s time.
It is important to note that for parents who already have a Residence or Contact Order in place, the new changes to the legislation will not have an effect on the validity of that order.
Should you have any further queries in regards to the new law or mediation, please feel free to contact a member of our Family law team at our office closest to you.