From September all family court judges in England will be able to order DNA tests to determine a child’s parentage.
This follows 2 pilot schemes in Taunton and Bristol which were set up following anecdotal evidence that courtroom arguments led to delays in divorce cases, particularly where parentage was in question.
Findings from the pilots suggest the tests mean judges could be more confident when making decisions about children and, most importantly, parents would be more likely to follow the court’s orders.
Justice Minister Simon Hughes said:
I am determined that all cases involving children should be resolved quickly and wherever possible outside court.
However when they do come to court they should be resolved in a civilised way so that children don’t suffer. Unambiguous and conclusive DNA tests will prove parentage and help to end acrimonious and embarrassing court battles.
The west of England pilots also explored whether alcohol and drug tests could be restricted without a means test to cases where their findings were determinative in family court cases.
These results were inconclusive, so the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) will test and develop a new model for delivering drugs and alcohol testing over coming months which is both affordable and provides the courts with the certainty they need.
The funding for DNA testing in private family law cases follows the introduction last year of the biggest reforms to the family justice system for a generation. These have placed children at the heart of every case and have cut to 29 weeks the time which care cases are taking.
The reforms have included:
- the introduction of the new Family Court in England and Wales with a simpler single system and a network of single application points making it easier for the public to use and understand
- new child arrangements orders which will encourage parents to focus on the child’s needs rather than what they see as their own ‘rights’
- compulsory family mediation information meetings so separating couples must consider alternatives to harmful and stressful court battles when they are resolving financial matters and arrangements for child contact
- a free mediation session for all couples where one of them is eligible for legal aid
Notes to editors:
- the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) helps over 140,000 children and young people who are going through care or adoption proceedings, or whose parents have separated and are unable to agree about future arrangements for their children. http://www.cafcass.gov.uk/about-cafcass.aspx
- evaluation of the pilot can be viewed at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/process-evaluation-of-the-private-law-children-cases-expert-evidence-pilot
- for further information contact the Ministry of Justice press office on 0203 334 3536. Follow us @MoJPress