By: Hana Khodabocus On 22nd April 2014, the Children and Families Act 2014 came into force changing the face of Children Act proceedings. The key changes introduced by the new act are as follows:
Child arrangement orders Child arrangement orders will replace residence and contact Orders that were available under the Children Act 1989. This represents a further change in semantics, as prior to the enactment of the Children Act 1989, ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ were referred to as ‘custody’ and ‘access’. A child arrangements order will refer to an order regulating arrangements relating to any of the following: (a) with whom the child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact (b) when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person
Child Arrangements Programme (‘CAP’) The Child Arrangements Programme (‘CAP’) applies when there is a dispute between separated parents or families regarding the arrangements in place for children. The CAP is intended to help parents or families reach agreements swiftly and amicably regarding the children, and to keep matters outside of Court where possible.
Mediation Parties are now required to attend an initial Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM), prior to applying for a child arrangement order. At a MIAM, parties will be given information provided by an independent and impartial mediator about how mediation works, the suitability of mediation in the particular circumstances of their case and the costs involved in attending. There are exemptions available regarding the prerequisite to attend a MIAM, including; domestic violence, urgency and a lack of facilities available regarding MIAMs.
Presumption of parental involvement Section 1 of the Children Act has also been amended so that there is now a rebuttable presumption that the involvement of a parent in their child’s life will further the welfare of that child. Involvement is defined in the act as meaning involvement of some kind, either direct or indirect, but not any particular division of the child’s time.
Conclusions The introduction of CAP is designed to limit private law proceedings to a 26 week timeframe, similar to public law proceedings. This will have the effect of ensuring that cases are run more efficiently and any delays are minimised. However, with the compulsion of MIAMs, save for exempt cases, there is an expectation that more cases will be resolved outside of court, thus reducing acrimony between the parties and saving on costs. It simply remains a matter of time to see how the courts take to implementing the new procedures, and whether fewer cases will be brought to court in the first place.