Last month saw a new, combined family court system coming into force in England and Wales, replacing the previous three tier system. The associated reforms are intended to simplify family law proceedings, make them easier for the public to access and understand, and make better provision for children caught up in legal disputes. They include the following major changes:-
1. Streamlining the system
As well as combining the current court systems into a single judicial institution, the new system will see them combined into a single building. The idea behind this is to speed up the processing of cases by reducing the delays that are inevitable when paperwork is transferred between courts; it should also mean that less paperwork is lost. Each case will easily be able to be sent to the right level of court, freeing up more experienced staff and senior judges to concentrate on the most complex cases.
2. Time limits
The courts will now aim to resolve all care proceedings within 26 weeks, with only the most complex cases being granted an extension. The aim of this measure is to minimise disruption to children’s lives, enabling them to settle into new arrangements more quickly and averting some of the bitterness that can arise from protracted legal battles. It hopes to give children a greater sense of certainty and to ensure that their interests are put first by all concerned, rather than letting the process focus on what the parents perceive to be their rights.
3. Mediation meetings
All separating couples will now be obliged to attend mediation meetings before they can have cases concerning child custody rights or distribution of financial assets heard before the courts. These meetings are intended to be information-focused, making them aware of the alternatives to taking these matters to court and explaining how damaging court battles can be to children.
4. Limits of expert evidence
Expert evidence will now only be allowed in family hearings when it is clearly essential to ensuring that the case has a just outcome, with particular weight given to the well-being of children. It is hoped that this will contribute to a reduction in the overall length of proceedings, whilst it may also make them less confrontational, with matters of comparatively minor concern being less likely to be made the focus of accusations.
5. Changes to fostering and adoption
The new system makes it easier for foster parents to adopt the children they are looking after and aims to ensure that children who can no longer be cared for by their parents are placed in permanent homes more quickly. Concern has been raised that this could make it harder to bring to the attention of the court, care arrangements offered by friends and relatives, such that it could militate against children being placed with people they already know, but the time limit on establishing care arrangements remains flexible. The aim is to make it possible for children to get back to living normal lives in a secure family environment as quickly as possible.
The legal framework for family law in the UK is complex and wide-ranging. Only by having the expert assistance of a family law solicitor at your disposal can you be sure that your interests are being represented effectively. Contact us today to see how Wiseman Lee can help you with your situation.