At the end of April 2014, a whole raft of changes in family law were introduced.  By simply reading media articles it may be very difficult to understand exactly what those changes are and what it means for you.

A New Single Family Court

Magistrates (or family proceedings courts) and County Courts have ceased to exist and instead there is now a single family court dealing with all family proceedings, except for a limited number of matters, which are exclusively dealt with by the High Court.

The Family Court can sit anywhere in England and Wales and former County or Magistrates’ court buildings will continue to be used for family court work.

When you make an application to the court, a ‘gatekeeping’ team will allocate the most appropriate level of judge to deal with your case.

The idea behind the single Family Court is that it will provide a more effective and more accessible family court system.  It is anticipated that the single Family Court will allow magistrates, legal advisers and the judiciary to work more closely together, and for there to be greater continuity in who hears your case.

Mediation

There is now a statutory requirement to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making an application to the court in relation to family proceedings, subject to some exceptions such as a history of domestic violence or when you and your former partner live far apart.

A referral to Mediation has in recent years always been encouraged but is now compulsory rather than optional. The idea is to reduce the number of disputes which end up in court.

Furthermore, the court can now adjourn proceedings and direct both you and your former partner to attend mediation if it considers it more appropriate.

Cases involving Children

There is a new presumption that the involvement of both parents in a child’s life is within their best interests.  This doesn’t mean that a child should spend equal amounts of time with each parent or that both parents should have direct involvement.  ‘Involvement’ means involvement of some kind, including indirect involvement.

Instead of ‘Contact’ and ‘Residence’ orders there will now be Child Arrangements Orders setting out where your child should live or whom they should have contact with. If you already have a residence or contact order in your favour they will now be known as a child arrangements order but in practice this will not alter your position or rights in any way.

At E J Coombs we have a close working relationship with a mediator who operates from our offices.  Please contact any member of our specialist family law team for expert advice.