Major changes to UK child law are now underway

Sweeping family law reforms have been brought about by the Child Arrangements Programme 2014 (CAP 2014), which on 22nd April 2014 replaced the previous Private Law Programme in respect of disputes concerning children and family arrangements, reports Mark Heptinstall.

We have not witnessed such wholesale change since the Children Act 1989 came into force.  The Children and Families Act 2014 has substantially amended the 1989 order and done away with the now-familiar concepts of ‘contact’ and ‘residence’, replacing them with arguably less divisive ‘child arrangements orders’.

From now on, where there is a dispute over:

(a) with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact; and/or (b) when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have have contact with any person

an application for a Child Arrangements Order can be made under s.8(1) of the Children Act 1989.

There is to be far greater emphasis on out-of-court dispute resolution, and attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) is now compulsory for anyone wishing to apply for a Child Arrangements Order, unless one of the prescribed exceptions applies i.e. in cases where there are domestic violence or child protection concerns.  There is a detailed pre-application protocol in respect of MIAMs which underlines the expectation that prospective Respondents should attend this important meeting.

Further, there are two hearings within the basic structure of the programme giving the parties the opportunity of resolving the dispute without a final hearing, namely the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Hearing and then the Dispute Resolution Hearing, much like the existing format for managing financial disputes on divorce.  Strict guidance on the allocation of new applications within the Family Court means that more of the more straightforward disputes will be dealt with by (lay) magistrates, to make best use of the available judicial resources, in the hope of avoiding delay.

The reforms are intended to facilitate and encourage the resolution of disputes away from the court system, not only to alleviate the current strain on that system, but also in the hope of achieving more child-friendly solutions.  If the parties do resort to the court process to resolve their dispute, the reforms will hopefully bring about swifter resolution, in the interests of the children concerned.

We will be keeping a close eye on the implementation of the new programme as it develops over the coming months, please check back with us for further updates.

For expert advice on all family law issues contact the team on 0161 969 3131 or email intouch@slaterheelis.co.uk.