The Children and Families Act has been given Royal Assent today, meaning reforms which will put children firmly at the heart of the family justice system will be introduced as part of the relaunched family court system being implemented on 22 April 2014.
Family Justice and Civil Liberties Minister Simon Hughes, said:
We are making sure the welfare of children is at the heart of the family justice system.
We want to keep families away from the negative effects that going to court can have and to use alternative solutions when they are suitable. This is why we have changed the law to make sure that separating couples always consider mediation as an alternative to a courtroom battle.
When cases go to court we want them to happen in the least damaging way. So we are improving processes, reducing excessive delays, and we have also changed the law so that care cases must be completed within 26 weeks.
In 2011 the independent Family Justice Review made a significant number of recommendations for reforming the family justice system, aimed at cutting delay and improving the way the system functions as a whole.
As a result of these recommendations, the family justice system is currently undergoing a period of significant and wide-ranging reform.
The Children and Families Act 2014 will make changes to the law needed to implement the Family Justice Review recommendations.
The family justice measures in the Act include:
Making it a requirement for separating couples to attend a meeting to find out about mediation before they are allowed to take disputes over finances or child custody to court (unless exemptions apply – such as in cases of domestic violence).
Sending a clear signal to separated parents that courts will take account of the principle that both should continue to be involved in their children’s lives where that is safe and consistent with the child’s welfare.
Ensuring expert evidence in family proceedings concerning children is permitted only when necessary to resolve the case justly, taking account of factors including the impact on the welfare of the child.
Introducing a maximum 26 week time limit for completing care and supervision proceedings (except were an extension is needed to resolve the proceedings justly).
The changes will come into effect from 22 April 2014, when the relaunched Family Court comes into effect.
The new family court will make a number of changes behind the scenes which will make it operate more efficiently for court users.